Three more children with symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) died at a hospital in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district on June 21 taking the toll to 139. According to the Muzaffarpur district administration, all three deaths were reported from the government-run SKMCH hospital, which alone has accounted for 104 casualties since June 1.
The Bihar health department had on June 20 released state-wide figures putting the total toll following the outbreak, which has spread across 16 districts, at 136.
With the latest three casualties, the death toll rose to 139 though unconfirmed reports claim that the number has crossed 150.
Hundreds of children are admitted to hospitals -- mostly at Muzaffarpur's SKMCH and privately-owned Kejriwal hospital -- for treatment of AES which is characterized by sudden onset of high fever and convulsions.
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The high number of deaths this year has been blamed on hypoglycemia or sudden drop in blood sugar levels, which some experts attribute to malnutrition and consumption of unripe litchi -- a fruit grown in abundance in north Bihar -- on an empty stomach and failure to administer glucose within four hours of the onset of fever and other symptoms.
The Muzaffarpur administration said that 13.5 lakh packets of oral rehydration solution (ORS) have been distributed across the district and health workers are carrying out an intensive awareness programme, as part of which 8.5 lakh pamphlets have been distributed.
In Patna, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar refused to take queries from journalists when they tried to seek his reaction on the outbreak which had rocked both Houses of parliament.
Kumar was approached with queries outside the state Assembly premises which he had visited to accompany Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who filed his nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha by-poll.
Opposition RJD leader Bhai Virendra alleged that Kumar's reproach to photo and video journalists inside the Returning Officer's chamber - when they started leaning on the backs of officials present inside - was "nothing else but giving vent to frustration over his government's inability to control the epidemic and having nothing to say to the media on the issue".
Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, who also heads the state BJP unit, told reporters, "Our party has resolved to do its bit and all BJP Lok Sabha members in the state shall be donating Rs 25 lakh to the Sadar hospitals in their respective constituencies for setting up of a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU)".
The state BJP office also circulated copies of a letter by Rai, dated June 19, whereby he informed the collector of Samastipur district -- wherein his constituency Ujiyarpur falls -- that he has decided to contribute Rs 25 lakh from his MPLAD fund for PICU.
The BJP has the highest number of 17 Lok Sabha members in Bihar where the total number of seats is 40.
Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, at a pre-budget meeting of Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with finance ministers of states, raised the issue of AES outbreak and sought a grant of Rs 100 crore for setting up a 100-bed pediatric ICU, a research centre and building a new AIIMS besides upgrading the state's medical colleges to a level comparable with the AIIMS.