NORTH LAKHIMPUR, July 21 � With the monsoon setting in, Lakhimpur district has become vulnerable to the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis (JE) in various areas. Lakhimpur falls in the JE map of the State where many people die of this deadly disease caused by mosquitoes.
Japanese encephalitis, also known as the �brain fever� is an arthropod-borne viral disease transmitted by infective bites of female mosquitoes, mainly belonging to the Culex group. In India, epidemics of JE are reported from many parts of the country, and it is considered a major paediatric problem. The disease was first recognised in Tamil Nadu in 1955 based on serological surveys, and subsequently, Assam became a major centre of JE in the country along with other States.
Incidentally, Lakhimpur is the first district of Assam and in the Northeast from where the outbreak of JE was first reported almost four decades ago. According to renowned paediatrician, late Dr Nabin Chandra Hazarika, it was in 1978 that the outbreak of then �new� disease called JE was reported from Lakhimpur district, the first such outbreak in the entire Northeast.
Lakhimpur has a history of regular JE outbreaks in the last three decades. Since then, major outbreaks of JE occurred in 1985-1988 in Lakhimpur district. An outbreak of JE in Lakhimpur between July-August 1989 affected 90 villages of the district, covering a population of approximately 36,000 with 50 per cent fatal cases. Later, several outbreaks were reported from Lakhimpur in consecutive years.
In recent times, JE outbreak was declared an epidemic in Lakhimpur district in 2008 when WHO teams were dispatched to control the disease that had taken several dozen lives. The following year, a massive JE vaccination drive was conducted in Lakhimpur district in May 2009, targeting mostly the children and accordingly, 315,495 children in the age group of one to 15 years were vaccinated in 1,522 centres throughout the district.
Assam shares about 53.11 per cent of the total JE cases reported in India during 2013 of which Lakhimpur district accounts for approximately 1.9 per cent of the total JE cases reported from Assam in the year 2013. It has been noticed that most of human cases of JE were reported during the period from May to October, although the season may be extended or year-round in some areas. JE is quite common in Lakhimpur because a lot of people are engaged in pig farming which is believed to be the foremost reason for the spread of the disease.
This year JE vaccination campaign for the adults was launched from February 22 to 28 in Lakhimpur district as a part of statewide campaign on a pilot project basis in which Assam became the first State to start adult vaccination against the deadly disease.
A study conducted by Dr Jitendra Sharma, Dr JN Das and Dr Anjumoni Pathak reveals that during the period 2008-2012, a total of 217 numbers of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) suspected cases were found from different areas of Lakhimpur district, out of which 24.88 per cent cases resulted in expiry of the patients. Results of serological diagnostic revealed that 66 numbers of cases were found to be positive for JE antibodies. The 18.18 per cent of JE positive patients expired during the last five years in the district.
Their study from the analysis of data in the last consecutive five years reveals that the number of occurrence of AES cases reach a peak level during the month of July every year. There is also a positive correlation between the numbers of AES/JE cases and the monthly rainfall data in Lakhimpur district. However, the Lakhimpur district administration has done nothing to prevent the outbreak of this deadly disease so far.
The health department is yet to undertake any preventive fogging and awareness campaigns in the district during this peak season of the disease. No bed nets in the district were impregnated as per malaria activities and no ITBN awareness camps have been organized for JE so far in the district.