New Delhi:  In the past few weeks, Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) has spread in Bihar like a wildfire killing as many as 80 children as of June 16.

This year, the cause of death has also been attributed to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level) and in some believed to be linked to a toxin in the summer fruit litchee.

What causes Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES)?

Encephalitis, a vector-borne disease, is an acute inflammation of the brain caused by any one of a number of viruses, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states. However, the disease in rare occasions can also be caused by bacteria, fungi, and other agents. The disease can be transmitted through various vector-infected sources, be it mosquitoes, ticks or the bite of a mammal.

What happens in Encephalitis?

The disease causes the immune system of the person to respond to a previous infection, mistakingly attacking the brain tissue. The symptoms primarily consist of severe headache, fever, photophobia (extreme sensitivity towards light). It also causes stiffness of the limbs, and in severe cases, nausea, disorientation, memory loss, seizures and a possible coma.

Why is it affecting children in Bihar?

While it is not necessary that AES affects only children, infants and toddlers are highly prone to the disease. It has been reported that the reason it is becoming increasingly uncontainable in Bihar is because of malnutrition in children which is automatically aggravated by severe heat, humidity and poor hygiene.

Moreover, a malnourished child is also likely to have fluctuations in the blood sugar level. For the same reason, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had advised parents not to let their children sleep or have litchi on empty stomach, as a preventive measure.

The syndrome causes death almost every year in regions of Bihar during the months of June-August. This year’s death toll of AES affected children has continued to rise despite desperate measures taken by the state government.