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Brain disease kills 97 children in India; ‘heat curfew’ imposed

Updated June 18, 2019

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Protestors shout slogans during a protest against the deaths of children who have died this month from encephalitis, commonly known as brain fever, in Bihar, in New Delhi on June 17. — Reuters
Protestors shout slogans during a protest against the deaths of children who have died this month from encephalitis, commonly known as brain fever, in Bihar, in New Delhi on June 17. — Reuters

PATNA: The Indian state of Bihar grappled on Monday with twin crises, with a brain virus potentially linked to lychees killing almost 100 children and extreme heat leaving 78 people dead.

The heatwave — India’s second-longest on record — prompted authorities in part of the northern state, one of the country’s poorest, to impose curfew-like restrictions.

Daytime temperatures across large parts of India have hovered above 40 degrees Celsius for the past 32 days, just one short of a record 33-day period in 1988.

Temperatures touched 50.3 degrees Celsius in the town of Churu in the northern desert state of Rajasthan recently, just below India’s record of 51 degrees.

Bihar, home to almost 100 million people, has seen temperatures hovering around 45 degrees for several days.

Severe heat there has killed 78 people — most of them aged above 50 — across three districts since Saturday afternoon, local official Sandeep Kumar said.

More than 130 others were undergoing emergency treatment for heatstroke in various hospitals.

Authorities in Gaya district which has borne the brunt of the heatwave invoked an Indian law to prohibit residents from going outdoors for non-essential work.

The district magistrate also banned construction work and any outdoor programme between 11am to 4pm.

Heatstroke is usually caused by prolonged exposure to sun or from physical exertion in high temperatures.

It has left more than 36 people dead in southern India in recent weeks.

Large parts of India are also reeling from drought, with annual monsoon rains late in coming.

Last week four passengers on a train travelling from Agra — the city of the Taj Mahal — to Coimbatore in the country’s south died from heatstroke.

Bihar, home to some of India’s worst health indicators, has also been struggling with an outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), a viral infection, since the start of this month.

Eighty children have now died in the state’s biggest government-run hospital — the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), in the city of Muzaffarpur — and 17 others at a private facility, health official Ashok Kumar Singh said.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2019