India’s encephalitis outbreak: the key facts

Japanese encephalitis cases rises tremendously during the monsoon season due to the increase in mosquitoes breeding. India loses hundreds of people to Japanese encephalitis every year, especially children, who have a relatively weaker immune system.

Although Japanese encephalitis could easily be prevented by being vaccinated, it is expensive and it requires 3 shots. Hence many people living in developing countries such as India are not able to afford the vaccine.

Modern farming is another cause for the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis. The situation in South and Southeast Asia has worsened ever since irrigated rice production was enhanced and intensified. Flooded rice fields provides a good environment for Mosquitoes transmitting Japanese encephalitis to breed.

Pig farmer in Gorakhpur (Photo: EPA/ANINDITO MUKHERJEE)Infected mosquitoes typically prefer blood meals from pigs. However, they move on to bite humans, when the mosquitoes population gets too large.

India’s state of West Bengal suffered the one of the highest outbreaks in 2014, due to the high number of pig farms.

In order to keep Japanese encephalitis cases as low as possible, The World Health organization (WHO) strongly caution against introducing more pigs into affected countries, even if it is an alternative income source for rice farmers.

The WHO says 24 countries across Southeast Asia and Western Pacific have endemic Japanese encephalitis transmission, exposing almost half the world’s population to the risks of infection.

Date: 2014, July 24 

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