At least 11 children in Bihar have died of acute encephalitis syndrome this year, the Hindustan Times quoted state health department officials as saying on Tuesday. Forty-eight cases have been reported this year, eight more than the corresponding period last year.

The affected children admitted at Sri Krishna Medical College Hospital in Muzaffarpur district have come from districts such as Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Sheohar, East Champaran, and West Champaran. The hospital’s superintendent Dr Sunil Kumar Shahi said the toll is higher. He claimed 19 deaths were reported at the Muzaffarpur hospital alone.

“Also, 10 children suffering from symptoms of acute encephalitis syndrome and Japanese encephalitis died while undergoing treatment at Kejriwal Maternity Clinic, Muzaffarpur,” said Dr Rajiv Kumar, a medical expert at the clinic. This puts the total number of deaths at 29, as opposed to the health department’s number.

The Down to Earth magazine reported that acute encephalitis syndrome has been reported in five districts in North Bihar, and more than 50 children have died in the last nine days. According to it, 100 children are grievously ill with symptoms of encephalitis, and are fighting for their lives at several hospitals.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, mental confusion, disorientation, delirium, or coma, and onset of seizures.

Union Minister of Health Dr Harsh Vardhan reviewed the status situation in Bihar on Tuesday. “A multi-specialist high-level team has been formed by the health ministry and deployed to Bihar,” he said, adding that experts from several institutions “will review the surge in cases of encephalopathy or encephalitis and to assist the state in containment or control operations”.

Vardhan said the specialised team was being sent in addition to a central team, which is already in Muzaffarpur. He said the central team has already visited several hospitals to assess the situation and support the state government.

Bihar Principal Secretary Sanjay Kumar said he has informed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that the state health department is investigating cases of acute encephalitis syndrome and Japanese encephalitis in 222 blocks in 12 districts. “Necessary pathological kits and medicines to combat the outbreak have been made available to the teams engaged in the operation,” Hindustan Times quoted him as saying. “So far, 27 cases of acute encephalitis syndrome and Japanese encephalitis have come to light, in which 10 children died due to the loss of sugar in the blood.”

In a statement, Nitish Kumar said diseases such as encephalitis usually break out before monsoon and urged people to take care of their children’s food and water intake. “The department had taken steps to contain it,” he said. “And if the cases are still coming up, it means there could be slackness on the part of the officials in creating awareness about the disease.”