Identification of encephalitis virus which continues to kill hundreds of children every year and maim thousands in eastern Uttar Pradesh still remains a challenge for scientists, the ICMR has said.

“We know that in about 15 per cent cases Japanese Encephalitis is the cause of death, but for the remaining 85 per cent the reason (virus) is yet to be ascertained. It still remains a challenge,” Director General, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) V M Katoch told PTI.

As against swine flu which claimed about 970 lives in 2009 across the country, the Encephalitis proved much more lethal claiming 567 deaths from a small pocket of 23 affected districts of eastern UP.

The lack of knowledge about lethal virus is proving a hindrance for developing a vaccine or cure for the disease, Katoch said.

Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur -- the most affected district -- Yogi Aditya Nath said thousands of lives are being lost every year for last three decades but the virus remains a mystery showing apathy of government’s health machinery towards the area.

“The toll of 567 is just for one year that too from BRD Medical College only. Large number of deaths occurring in villages and private hospitals are getting unnoticed and unreported. The numbers are much higher,” he said.

The Health Ministry feels the problem lies more in social issues like hygiene in the region.

“In many cases we have found that patients had other complications like jaundice when they were brought to hospitals... in some the detection of encephalitis was late... so all these scenarios have to be kept in mind while dealing with the problem,” Katoch said.

The Japanese Encephalitis virus grows in domestic pigs which acts as reservoir for it and spreads through female mosquitoes of culex tritaeniorhynchus, culex vishnui and culex pseudovishnui.

The infection which mainly takes place in children up to the age of 15 years, adversely affects the nervous system of the patient. The swelling in brain creates respiratory problems and person succumbs to it or gets paralysed.

According to Nath, hospitals here were also ill-equipped to deal with the disease. “The government will have to take local bodies in sanitation and hygiene process and only prevention of disease can improve the situation,” he said.

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