Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh government has pressed the panic button as 88 people have succumbed to various strains of encephalitis in the last fortnight, a disease that hits the state every year and kills a large number of children.
Apart from the toll, what has taken the health officials by surprise is the timing, a month in advance of the `disease period` that usually begins in July.
Health officials admit that till June 10, as many as 467 cases of AES (Acute Encephalitis Syndrome) have come to various primary health centers, hospitals, other medical facilities and the BRD medical college in Gorakhpur.
Director General of Medical Health Ram Ji Lal said: "The disease has begun spreading a little early this time round, but we are ready to take on it. Several measures have been initiated by the state government."
The disease, which claimed more than 600 lives in the last season, is peaking in areas around Gorakhpur division, officials say. Lal said the maximum deaths were reported from Gorakhpur followed by Kushinagar, Deoria and Maharajganj.
Doctors say Gorakhpur, being the "maximum hit", is getting all attention from the government and orders have been issued to deploy a physician and a pediatrician at every hospital so that the cases are detected in time and treatment is given promptly.
So far, health officials say no infection of Japanese Encephalitis (JE), a virulent strain, has been reported but they caution that this does not mean that the killer disease has been contained.
The credit of thwarting a JE outbreak so far is largely being given to a special vaccination drive undertaken two years back.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed and doing our best to prevent the epidemic-like situation as last year," one official told a news agency.
Fortnightly camps have also been ordered to be held in the infected districts. There is however a problem with Sant Kabirnagar as the district does not have a district hospital yet.
The battle against AES has largely been left to PHCs, which are being equipped with ventilators.
Since AES is largely a water-borne disease, sanitation is belatedly being given special attention and so is potable water availability, an official said.
While last year four ventilators were issued by the government and a special 100-bed hospital was constructed at a cost of Rs.18 crore for AES patients, this time the government has ordered the purchase of 124 ventilators by July.
Chief Secretary Javed Usmani has directed health officials to also deploy an ambulance at all district hospitals and PHCs.