Patna: Forty-five children below the age of 10 have died in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur in the last three weeks due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). However, experts opine that the state government is still confused over the real “cause”.

The preliminary symptoms of the alarming number of deaths include high fever and convulsions — an ailment locally referred to as ‘chamki fever’.

To understand rampant nature of the health crisis, consider this: currently, 172 children are being treated in the district’s Shree Krishna Medical College and Kejriwal Hospital.

Despite local officials and administrators on high alert, the deaths do not seem to stop.

Later on Thursday, news agency ANI reported that the toll had risen to 54, with 46 deaths at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital and eight at Kejriwal Hospital in the city. News18 was unable to independently confirm the figures.

Meanwhile, the state government in an official statement on Tuesday cited the reason to be hypoglycemia — low blood sugar level. According to medical experts and practitioners, there is an anomaly.

Dr. Arun Kumar Shah, a pediatrician in the district, rejected the cause of death cited by government officers, saying, “Those who say hypoglycemia is the cause of death have limited knowledge of the subject or they are trying to hide their failure by naming it differently.”

According to him, hypoglycemia is merely one of the symptoms and thus cannot be termed as a disease. “Convulsions, high fever and lower level of sugar in the body are the indication of a disease called Acute Encephalitis Syndrome.”

Dr. Shah, along with Maharashtra’s Dr. Jacob John had, in 2016, published a research paper on the very subject. The guidelines mentioned in the paper to prevent the casualties were also accepted by the statement government, implementation, however, never saw the light of day.

The families of every child who succumbed to the disease and of those currently admitted in hospitals have one thing in common — poor financial status leading to malnutrition in the children and, thus, low sugar levels. Experts informed that in the months when the mercury rises above 40 degree Celsius, intense malnutrition coupled with extreme temperatures produce an irreversible effect in the body leading to death.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, the central government on Wednesday sent a team led by Dr. Arun Kumar to examine the mater and to submit the report.

Dr. Kumar while talking to the press on the issue said, “Hypoglycemia is one of the features of AES where a lower level of sugar is found in the body and there are other symptoms as well which all come under one umbrella term Acute Encephalopathy Syndrome”.

The problem, however, is not new to the state. In fact, Muzaffarpur and adjoining districts have been reeling under the crisis since the last couple of decades. Lack of proper preventive measures has made the disease recurrent.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, former President of Indian Medical Association, agreed to the state’s lackluster approach and said that the real cause is not being addressed.

“Hypoglycemia is an effect and not a cause. The government should rather concentrate more on checking the number of deaths which have been taking place for a decade rather than finding new medical terms for this grave medical situation,” he said.

Dr. Kumar, while emphasising on the immediate measures needed to curb the number of deaths, said, “Every year, when such deaths occur, the government shows that they are very serious about checking this medical situation. But, sadly, there is no proper action and seriousness. Eventually, when the temperatures dip and monsoon sets in, the number of casualties naturally decline.”

Dr. Gopal Sahni, pediatrician at one of the two hospitals where children are currently admitted, confirmed this conclusion and said, “Children suffering from malnutrition are not able to adapt to the climate at an extreme temperature, so they succumb.”

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