Across seven districts in north Bihar and four districts in east Uttar Pradesh,children have been dying around monsoon for years now. The toll since 2011 is at least 1,634 dead,thousands afflicted.
The victims are all very young,mostly come from poor families,and the symptoms generally involve fever,convulsions and nausea,followed by sudden death. In Gorakhpur,the disease has been labelled since the 1970s as Japanese Encephalitis. When Muzaffarpur,250 km away,started seeing similar deaths several years ago,they were also blamed on JE.
However,with treatment procedures and mass immunisations for JE failing,experts have been coming from across the country and the world to decipher the mystery illnesses of Muzaffarpur and Gorakhpur.
After tests for many viruses,and examining several factors,including environmental,they have found few answers except ruling out what the disease isnt. And it isnt JE in Bihar,while in UP,the percentage of children suffering and dying from it is minuscule. What has been established is that the two epicentres are seeing different facets of what is being called Acute Encephalitis Syndrome.
In a two-part series starting today,The Indian Express explores the mystery and the malady of Muzaffarpur and Gorakhpur.