Indian children to be vaccinated against deadly Japanese encephalitis

Public health authorities in a northern Indian state plan to start vaccinating millions of children against Japanese encephalitis, a deadly virus that killed some 1,400 people in an outbreak last year, officials said Tuesday.

India has imported from China millions of doses of the Japanese encephalitis vaccine, and some 6.64 million are earmarked for an immunization campaign scheduled to begin May 15 in the state of Uttar Pradesh, said B. Nath, a state health official.

Uttar Pradesh alone needs at least 7 million doses of the vaccine, and Indian-made vaccines will cover the shortfall, Nath said. India currently produces about 400,000 doses a year.

More than 1,400 people, most of them children, died from an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh and neighboring Bihar state last year. There was no immediate word of whether authorities in Bihar were planning a similar vaccination drive.

Japanese encephalitis causes swelling of the brain. Symptoms include high fever, seizures and vomiting, and many cases lead to death. It is spread by mosquitos that breed in puddles left by annual monsoon rains, which begin in Uttar Pradesh around June.

During the last outbreak, the state and federal government faced criticism for not providing vaccines to protect against the disease.

The vaccination drive is scheduled to start in Gorakhpur, a district in the impoverished eastern region of Uttar Pradesh that bore the brunt of the last outbreak. It is to be completed by May, well before the onset of the monsoon, Nath said, reports the AP.

I.L.