With blood and swab samples confirming Japanese encephalitis as the cause of death of children here, experts suspect that lazy mosquitoes might have prevented the outbreak of an epidemic.

Though initially the cause of sudden death of 24 children in a radius of 20 km baffled many, leading to the suspicion that a mystery fever triggered the deaths, doctors said after clinical tests this was a ‘localised’ phenomenon as the nearby settlements of refugees from Bangladesh were unaffected.

“The tribals live close to pig and cattle sheds. As the mosquitoes were lazy, not a single case of Japanese encephalitis was reported from any of the nearby settlement villages,” medicine specialist at the District Headquarters Hospital, Malkangiri, K.C. Mohapatra told The Hindu.

Seventy samples taken from Potrel and Uskapalli hamlets of Korukonda and Chorkiguda of Malkangiri blocks bordering Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh have confirmed Japanese encephalitis as the cause.

The tribals in the locality, mostly primitive groups belonging to Koya, believe evil spirits had killed their children. They conduct rituals by paying hefty amounts to traditional healers, called ‘Gunia,’ to perform puja.

“As of now, 11 deaths due to Japanese encephalitis were confirmed. More confirmation of samples is expected in a day or two,” Chief District Medical Officer Sashibhusan Panda said on the phone on Monday.

The deaths were reported over two months. Villagers say 10 children died with identical symptoms of severe stomach-ache, dizziness, fever and vomiting three years ago.

Experts from the Regional Medical Research Centre, Bhubaneswar and MKCG Medical College Hospital, Berhampur conducted the tests.