A mosquito-borne disease that ravaged this corner of northern India earlier in the year killed another 14 people over the weekend, officials said. However, one medical expert attributed the deaths to another cause.
Most of those who died over the weekend from Japanese encephalitis were children, said Dr. Vijay Shankar Nigam, a top health official in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, the epicenter of the outbreak. He said more than 240 people remain in hospitalized with the disease, which is spread by mosquitoes.
The new encephalitis deaths pushed the toll in an outbreak of the disease that started in midsummer to 1,326, Nigam said. Most of the deaths occurred in August and September at the height of the region's monsoon season, when stagnant puddles of rainwater provide ample breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
However, a senior doctor in the hardest-hit district of Gorakhpur said at least 40 deaths in recent weeks that have been attributed to encephalitis were actually caused by another virus, Coxsackievirus, which spreads from human to human by feces, dirty water and unwashed hands.
Both diseases cause similar symptoms, such as brain inflammation and high fever, and can be fatal.
Dr K. P. Kushwaha, the head of the Pediatrics Department at the Gorakhpur hospital, said blood samples from some of the patients tested by a private laboratory in New Delhi, India's capital, showed they were killed by Coxsackievirus.
However, Nigam said that health authorities in Uttar Pradesh were still awaiting the results of blood tests being conducted by government laboratories and until "we get the report, we will treat all those deaths as caused by Japanese encephalitis," Uttar Pradesh, home to 180 million people, is an impoverished state where medical health facilities are severely underfunded and understaffed.
A vaccination campaign against Japanese encephalitis planned by authorities at the height of this year's outbreak has yet to begin, although the reasons for the delay were not immediately clear, reports the AP. I.L.