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India, Nepal Fight Outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis

I’m Jim Tedder with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Japanese encephalitis is a disease that can cause brain damage and, in some cases, death. But it can also be prevented with a vaccine.

Japanese encephalitis is caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system. The virus is spread by infected mosquitoes, usually in rice-growing and pig-farming areas of Asia. Mosquitoes pick up the virus when they bite infected pigs and wild birds. Then the insects pass the virus to people and animals. Experts say the virus is not passed between people.

Most people who are infected with the virus develop mild effects or none at all. But it can progress to an infection of the brain. Signs include a high body temperature, head pain, seizures and vomiting. Victims may also not be able to think clearly.

A recent outbreak of Japanese encephalitis has killed more than six hundred people in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. Most of the victims were children. The disease has spread to areas including the state capital, Lucknow.

Vaccinations can protect people against Japanese encephalitis. Uttar Pradesh officials say they do not have enough money for the medicine. They have appealed for help from the federal government and the World Health Organization. The Associated Press reported Monday that India's health minister said more than twenty million children will be vaccinated.

The disease has also spread across the border to Nepal. The Associated Press said Nepal has had more than one hundred seventy deaths.

The World Health Organization says about fifty thousand cases of Japanese encephalitis are reported each year. These result in about fifteen thousand deaths. Other victims are left with serious brain damage, including loss of movement.

Experts say most of those infected with Japanese encephalitis are children up to fifteen years old. Doctors identify the disease through blood tests and test of fluid from the spinal cord. There is no cure. Antibiotics do not work against viruses. And no effective anti-viral drugs have been discovered against Japanese encephalitis.

United States health officials say major outbreaks in the past have hit China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and other areas. Cambodia, India, Nepal, Malaysia and Vietnam are among countries that still have outbreaks from time to time.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Internet users can find our reports at I’m Jim Tedder.