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Japanese encaphalitis: What it is, signs & symptoms, prevention 

How does it spread, when you are most at risk -- here’s all that you need to know about the flavivirus that’s gripping Assam. Meanwhile, death toll rises to 71

Sandeep Borah

Sandeep Borah

Guwahati: Japanese Encephalitis (JE), a deadly mosquito-borne flavivirus that causes swelling of brain, has engulfed almost all districts of state, barring Kokrajhar, and has claimed nearly 71 lives with over 336 patients testing positive in its fresh outbreak in Assam since April this year.

Health establishments in Assam are on high alert with the biggest worry being that for the first time JE cases has been reported from 26 out of the 27 districts.

As per the World Health Organization, most JEV infections are mild (fever and headache) or without apparent symptoms, but approximately one in 250 infections results in severe clinical illness. The incubation period for JE virus is between 4 and 14 days.

Highlighting some of the common syndromes among persons detected with JEV, the international body mentioned that mental status change, neurologic symptoms, weakness, and movement disorders might develop few days after an individual is being infected by the deadly disease.

“In children, gastrointestinal pain and vomiting may be the dominant initial symptoms. Severe disease is characterized by rapid onset of high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, seizures and spastic paralysis”, informed the international health body.

The brain symptoms of Japanese encephalitis can also cause lifelong complications, such as deafness uncontrollable emotions, and weakness on one side of the body.

Incidentally, there is no specific treatment for the benefit of patients detected with JE, but hospitalisation for supportive care and close observation is always prescribed and imperative.

In the case of an outbreak, people who live in communities experiencing Japanese encephalitis should remove pools of standing water, where mosquitoes can breed, and use an insect repellent in affected zones. Wering of loose-fitting clothing can also help in keeping mosquitoes away from a person’s skin.

Meanwhile, addressing a press conference in Guwahati on Saturday, state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma informed that preventive measures are being taken to control the outbreak. “The state government will also bear the cost of diagnosis and treatment of JE case,” Sarma added.

The state health department's 'fear surveillance network', comprising multipurpose workers, malarial technical supervisors and accredited social health activists, has also been instructed to collect blood samples.

Assam government has also made arrangements for free transportation of suspected fever cases from the community to the district hospital, while reserving beds in intensive care units and wards for patients suffering from the disease.

'Elisa kits' have been distributed in all district hospitals and medical colleges for detection of the virus. Intensified fogging operations are also being carried out in affected areas.

JAPANESE ENCEPHALITIS: READY RECKONER

WHAT IS IT?

* A viral infection of the human brain caused by the Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus.

HOW DOES IT SPREAD?

* Spread by particular type of mosquitoes.

* Pigs are an important host for the virus.

* A mosquito becomes infected with virus after biting infected pigs. If you get bitten by an infected mosquito, it can pass on the virus.

* The virus cannot be passed from person to person.

WHEN YOU’RE MOST AT RISK?

Risk of becoming infected is highest during and after rainy seasons.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

* Headache

* Fever

* Seizures

* Vomiting

* Muscle weakness or paralysis

PREVENTION

* Avoid mosquito bites

* Use insect repellent

* Wear clothes which cover arms and legs

* Use screens on windows and doors

* Take steps to prevent mosquitoes from breeding

* Get vaccinated