An outbreak of encephalitis in the state of Uddar Pradesh in Northern India has killed over 400 people, with the majority of deaths being children. In a region beset with poverty, systemically poor hygiene, and lack of health care, the virulence of the disease has been amplified by the mysterious and sudden nature of it. Though the region often experiences outbreaks of encephalitis annually, in accordance with the monsoon, those outbreaks have traditionally been the result of Japanese Encephalitis Virus, which is spread by mosquitoes. Indeed, massive vaccination efforts and the allocation of funds by the central government towards treating JEV have greatly reduced its incidence in the region. As reported in the attached article, however, this disease is thought to be caused by a virus that is transmitted through contaminated water, a fecal-oral route, and is thought, though not known, to be an enterovirus. Though examinations based on a combination of PCR and viral chip technology, researchers hope to be able to pinpoint the exact nature of this regionally emerging virus. Failing a major breakthrough, its identification may not directly affect the current outbreak, but it could serve as a valuable tool for researching and treating what could be an emerging viral disease. Still, doctors involved place most of the blame for the current outbreak on poor hygiene standards and under-performing sanitation systems. Without an overhaul of these systems, this encephalitis may become endemic to the region, continuing to claim lives and displacing JEV as a local scourge.
(Outbreak, October 21, 2011)