Seven more children died of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome-like symptoms in Bihar in last 24 hours, taking the toll to 43 even as new cases are being reported, officials said on Thursday.
With the toll feared to go up as dozens of kids were still being treated in various hospitals, the state and Central governments are scrambling to contain the spread of the disease.
Regional Additional Director, Health, Ashok Kumar Singh, who is based in Muzaffarpur that has been worst hit by the disease outbreak, confirmed deaths of 54 children so far.
As many as 46 children died in the government-run Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) and eight in the private Kejriwal hospital as of Wednesday evening, he said.
With dozens of children undergoing treatment, Singh did not rule out more deaths on Thursday even as some reports said that the toll had risen above 60.
Principal Secretary, Health, Sanjay Kumar admitted that many children with symptoms akin to AES are still undergoing treatment in Muzaffarpur and few new patients were also admitted in the hospitals in last 24 hours.
Till date, 143 cases of AES have been reported from 11 districts - Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Samastipur, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, East Champaran, Patna, Gaya, Jehanabad, Bhojpur and Aurangabad.
Kumar said that most of children died due to hypoglycaemia (loss of sugar in the blood) and shortage of sodium in their bodies after developing symptoms akin to AES.
A day after the seven-member Central team headed by senior paediatrician Dr Arun Kumar Sinha, national advisor in the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry, visited Muzaffarpur to review the situation and to help the state in control of the disease, Union Minister of State for Health Ashwani Kumar Choubey reached Muzaffarpur on Thursday.
His visit came as Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan's visit was cancelled at the last momemnt.
Choubey, who belongs to Bihar, will meet doctors, health officials and parents of children battling for their lives during his visit.
SKMCH superintendent Sunil Kumar Shahi said team of doctors have been working day and night to provide proper treatment to save the lives of the affected children. "We are in alert mode... taking no chances," he said.
Health officials said that experts are of the view that monsoon rains will not only help bring down cases but also help to treat children. "In the last few years, we had closely seen that heat wave conditions help the virus to spread and intensify the disease... monsoon rains are best antidote for the disease," an official said.
The state Health Department had already issued advisory to people to take care of their children during daylight hours and not allow them to play under the open sky.
After Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stressed the need to sensitise the people, health officials have launched the campaign from primary health centres to block and district hospitals.