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India battling deadly encephalitis outbreak

India is battling a deadly encephalitis outbreak in the eastern provinces of Assam and West Bengal, with more than 300 people killed over the past few weeks by the disease.

INDIA: India is battling a deadly encephalitis outbreak in the eastern provinces of Assam and West Bengal, with more than 300 people killed over the past few weeks by the disease. Of the 300 people who have lost their lives to the virus, 140 have succumbed to Japanese encephalitis - a deadly brain fever.

The infection normally affects infants and children, but what is surprising in the recent outbreak is how the virus has not spared even adults. The families of those affected say a lack of adequate medical facilities is making the situation worse.

Mr Moti ur-Rehman, a relative of an encephalitis patient, said: "There are no doctors here. Today, three more people died. When I asked the doctors, they said nobody died. But I saw with my own eyes and people also said their relatives had died. There is not enough doctors and facilities for those seeking treatment."

Encephalitis is a common disease in eastern parts of India and hits the region around this time of the year during the annual monsoon season. The disease is often spread by mosquitoes or the consumption of contaminated food or water, and last year, encephalitis claimed more lives than dengue and malaria. Authorities say they are taking all preventive steps to control the brain fever amid fears of an epidemic.

Dr Binapani Basumatry, director of Health and Family Welfare at the Assam government, said: "We are taking all our measures so that it can be controlled. Since it does not have any specific treatment, we are making the public aware about it. First thing is prevention. Prevent yourself from mosquito bites, clean all your surroundings so that mosquito breeding does not take place."

India's Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has said that he was distressed at the “runaway conquest of encephalitis” despite the government launching a national programme to prevent and control the virus. But still the disease, of which some people in the impoverished regions do not even know the name of, continue to spread. 

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