Patna:The Bihar government is alarmed at five more deaths of children in the past 24 hours in Bihar`s Muzaffarpur district, taking the toll from a mysterious disease now to 25, officials said on Monday.
The children reported high fever, followed by bouts of unconsciousness and convulsions, leading to their death. Local people termed the mysterious disease as `chamki ki bimari` and claimed that the symptoms are similar to encephalitis, a disease that causes inflammation of the brain.
Over three dozen children are undergoing treatment in hospitals but health officials are still unable to identify the disease.
Alarmed by deaths of children, Bihar Health Minister Ashwani Kumar Choubey is visiting Muzaffarpur Monday to take stock of the situation. Interestingly, it was Choubey who had earlier described the soaring summer heat in the region as the cause of deaths three days ago.
"Now the situation in Muzaffarpur appears serious, we will take care of it," Choubey said minutes before he left for Muzaffarpur.
An official in Chief Minister Nitish Kumar`s office told IANS on Monday that Nitish Kumar held an emergency meeting with top officials and directed them to take immediate measures to tackle the situation in Muzaffarpur.
He asked the principal secretary of health department, Amarjeet Sinha, to send a team of experts to Muzaffarpur later on Monday, the official said.
Nitish Kumar, who returned from a week-long visit to China Sunday, appealed to union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to immediately send a central team to Bihar to investigate the reasons behind the outbreak of the mystery disease.
According to reports children with symptoms similar to those of encephalitis were also found in other districts like Sheohar, Gopalganj, East Champaran, Siwan and Sitamarhi.
"Eleven children suffering from similar symptoms from Gopalganj were admitted to a government hospital in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh`s Gorakhpur town for treatment and one child died of the mysterious disease in Motihari in East Champaran," a local Hindi daily reported.
The district administration has sounded a high alert to check the spread of the disease.
Muzaffarpur Malaria Officer Dr Bhagirathi Prasad Sunday said, "It is unfortunate that the cause of the deaths could not be ascertained till date."
Prasad said a three-member team of experts from Patna visited hospitals in Muzaffarpur on Saturday to collect blood samples for test, but committed a blunder.
"The team visited Muzaffarpur without courier agent to keep collected blood samples. It is nothing but a blunder," he said.
A.P.Singh, the district civil surgeon earlier said, "We cannot say what disease led to the death of the children here. The disease is yet to be identified. Whether it is encephalitis or some unknown disease, we can say only after medical reports come."
Official sources in the state health department here said there was no facility to identify encephalitis in Bihar.
It is not the first time that Muzaffarpur is in news for deaths of children due to an unknown disease. Last year also over two dozen children had died but the state government failed to identify it."
Local residents claimed it was encephalitis that kills children in Muzaffarpur year after year during the months of May and June.