Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said eight advanced life support ambulances have been deployed in the districts of Bihar affected by the encephalitis outbreak. At least 128 people have died of the disease across the state so far, with the most number of deaths in Muzaffapur, and the large majority of them children.

The ambulances are being used for transportation of critical patients to hospital, the press information bureau said. A central team of 10 pediatricians and five paramedics have been deployed in the field and are working in coordination with the Bihar government, Vardhan added.

“Dr Harsh Vardhan further added that 16 senior district officials and medical personnel have been sent to the vulnerable blocks for monitoring and early identification of cases and ensuring daily reporting,” the press release said. “Their headquarters have also been shifted to these blocks also.”

The minister said that the state government has begun a house-to-house campaign to look for cases of encephalitis. Surprise checks are also being conducted at public health centres. Senior deputy collectors are also involved in checking anganwadi centres early in the morning, he added.

The Bihar government has ordered a socio-economic survey of more than 450 people whose children have either been affected by the disease or died.

Vardhan said a team from the Indian Council of Medical Research has been deployed to the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur for making the planned virology laboratory at the facility operational as soon as possible.

The multidisciplinary team is reviewing the records of patients afflicted with the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, who have been affected and treated in 2019. “The team is reviewing the case records of discharged and deceased AES patients at SKMCH using a standardized tool to know the reasons for mortality,” he said. “We expect to complete the activity in next two to three days. A similar exercise will be undertaken in the Kejriwal Hospital.”

The symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, which causes fatal inflammation of the brain, include fever, mental confusion, disorientation, delirium, or coma, and onset of seizures. The Japanese encephalitis virus is the most common cause of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome in the country, causing 5% to 35% of the cases. But the syndrome is also caused by scrub typhus, dengue, mumps, measles, and Nipah and Zika viruses.