Encephalitis kills 112, here’s what you need to know about the deadly disease

Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) affects the central nervous system, mostly in children and young adults. It starts with high fever, then hampers neurological functions causing mental disorientation, seizure, confusion, delirium, coma


At present, more than 400 patients are admitted in different hospitals in Bihar, as they are getting treated for a condition called acute encephalitis syndrome (AES).

At the time of publishing the article, the death toll had mounted to 112. Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and the adjoining districts are gripped with the cases of AES. Districts like East Champaran and Vaishali have also reported cases.

What is Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES)?

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. AES affects the central nervous system. The disease is mostly seen in children and young adults, and can cause delirium, coma, seizure and confusion.

According to the National Health Portal of India (NHP), it is ‘a serious public health problem’ in the country.

What causes AES?

According to the Union Health Ministry data, the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is a leading cause of acute encephalitis syndrome in India. Over 15 per cent of cases of AES were found positive for infection due to JEV.

That, however, is not the only cause. It can also be caused by Zika virus, Nipah virus, scrub typhus, measles, dengue and mumps among others.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include headache, fever, confusion, a stiff neck, and vomiting. Complications may include seizures, hallucination, trouble speaking, memory problems, and problems with hearing.

Did we witness AES outbreak earlier in India?

AES was diagnosed for the first time in India in 1955 in the then State of Madras (now Tamil Nadu). In Muzaffarpur, AES outbreaks have been reported since 1995, according to reports.

According to the National Vector Borne Diseases Control Programme (NVBDCP), in 2018, 10,485 AES cases and 632 deaths reported from 17 states across India. The cases were reported mainly from Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

Different theories about what happened in Muzaffarpur?

In Muzaffarpur, there are two competing theories of the epidemic: one, caused by heat stroke, and two, caused by a toxin in locally-grown fruit, litchi.

The study is done by experts from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), New Delhi and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta (USA).

Dr D B Kadam, a senior internal medicine doctor from Pune, said, “Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. Maharashtra reports cases of encephalitis sporadically. The occurrence of case depends on virus endemicity.”

Dr Jayant Navrange, pediatrician from Pune, said, “Causes can be many. Virus, toxins, bacterial infections, poison like lead, copper are different causes. There is documented evidence on encephalitis. There is high production of litchi in Bihar. Excessive intake has found that it causes hypoglycemia that is very low level of sugar. Heat is also found as one cause.  Mortality is high. Though found mostly in children, age is no bar. The symptoms are vomiting, seizures, intense headache, fever etc.”