Odisha government blames consumption of cassia seeds for encephalitis outbreak

Though no Japanese Encephalitis (JE) mortalities have been registered as yet in the official records, 473 acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) cases have been diagnosed so far in the state.

Published: 19th August 2017 02:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th August 2017 11:04 AM   |  A+A-

A child receives treatment for Japanese encephalitis at the district headquarters hospital in Malkangiri, Odisha. | EPS

By Express News Service

ODISHA: Monsoon fevers are de rigueur in Odisha. While swine flu and dengue are spreading in the urban areas, the tribal hinterland has been beset with outbreaks of encephalitis since 2012. Though no Japanese Encephalitis (JE) mortalities have been registered as yet in the official records, 473 acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) cases have been diagnosed so far. Odisha stands fifth in AES mortality after Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar.

According to the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, AES had taken 13 lives by the first week of August. Apart from AES, eight persons have fallen victim to swine flu in Odisha in the last two weeks. More than 100 positive cases have been detected. Dengue is the other scourge in the state: two deaths and 367 positive cases.

Both AES and JE have been regular visitations in Odisha since 2012. Last year, the state grabbed the national headlines when 115 children died of AES and 42 fell to JE. Most of the deaths were reported from Malkangiri district.

But the state government has been equivocating on the incidence of AES. It went to the extent of claiming that consumption of seeds of a plant called Cassia occidentalis, locally known as Bada Chakunda, caused death of a third of the children who fell to encephalitis in Malkangiri district.

An expert committee suggested that JE could not be blamed for all the deaths because “encephalopathy” was the culprit. Encephalopathy, it said, is a non-infectious biochemical syndrome that can be aggravated by the consumption of Cassia seeds. The fact is the Naveen Patnaik government remained aloof to the spread of AES, which is caused by a vector-borne virus hosted by pigs.

The Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC), Bhubaneswar, carried out a study on the outbreak of AES in Malkangiri in 2015 but its findings were not paid heed to. From 38 deaths in 2012 to 115 in 2016, the AES surge was waiting to happen.


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