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Chaos and tragedy in Indian 'brain fever' outbreak

Epicentre of a brain fever outbreak

Epicentre of a brain fever outbreak

The stench of urine, chlorine, vomit and death fill the main hospital in Muzaffarpur, the epicentre of a brain fever outbreak in India that has killed over 100 children since June 1.

Doctors are not sure what the cause is, but one theory is that the culprit is a toxin found in lychees eaten by children of poor families who go to bed with empty stomachs.

Loss of life

Loss of life

One of the distraught parents crowding the chaotic corridors of the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) is Dilip Sahni, 25, a construction worker and father of three.

He brought his daughter Muskan, four-and-a-half, early in the morning, only 24 hours after she fell ill, to the SKMCH.

There almost 100 other children are being treated, many sharing beds. "When her mother went in to wake her yesterday at 11 am, she was shocked to see her hands and legs tightened and her teeth sticking together," Sahni told AFP.

"Her mother started screaming for help, and we rushed her to the Kejriwal hospital.

At midnight the hospital doctors told us to take her to SKMCH," he said. "Early morning we shifted her here but her condition has been deteriorating," Sahni said before breaking down.

Not long afterwards came the news that little Muskan had died. She was very likely just the latest victim in a health crisis blamed on Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in the dirt-poor, baking hot eastern state of Bihar.

Delayed treatment, leading to death

Delayed treatment, leading to death

The onset is lightning fast, its young victims quickly developing a high fever, seizures, and vomiting.

All often, if treatment is not swift, leading to death.

A total of 113 children have died so far this month. "Obviously it is tough to make ends meet and raise three children. But I try my best. She was a healthy and playful child," Sahni had said when he had brought his daughter in.

"The night before she had eaten bread, she did not have any lychees. It was 10 days ago she had the fruit," he said.

Terrified to see ill sight

Terrified to see ill sight

As the hospital guards scream at parents not to crowd the wards, Raju Kumar, 35, a father of five, has just admitted his two-and-half-year-old son to the intensive care unit.

"I am dying with worry. So many dead bodies of little children I have seen standing here. I am just praying my son is saved somehow," Kumar, who owns a clothes shop, told AFP.

"He fell unconscious suddenly the day before yesterday. We rushed him here immediately," he says, holding his four-month-old baby in his arms.

Healthcare in shambles

Healthcare in shambles

Bihar, home to almost 100 million people, has also been hit by a heatwave, with temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) killing 184 people this summer - including 78 since Saturday.

Not only is Bihar poor, its healthcare system is in a dire state.

Doctor to patient ratio scary

Doctor to patient ratio scary

For every 100,000 people there are fewer than two health workers, compared to the average for India of around nine, according to the Hindustan Times daily.

This is not the first outbreak of AES in Bihar.

But fatalities until this year had fallen sharply since 2014, when 355 children died.

There were just 33 deaths last year, the Hindustan Times reported.


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