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New York Times Reports On Mystery Illness Infecting Children In One Of India’s Most Impoverished Areas

The New York Times examines a mystery illness infecting children in Muzaffarpur, “one of India’s most impoverished areas.” The newspaper writes, “Although public health statistics are unreliable here, the disease is believed to infect tens of thousands of people a year and kill thousands,” adding, “All doctors know is that the illness is a form of brain swelling, or encephalitis, but that is a huge category, covering a wide spectrum of diseases.” The newspaper continues, “Doctors have tested for known causes of brain swelling, including meningitis and Japanese encephalitis, but the tests almost always come back negative,” noting, “India’s top health officials say the disease, known officially as acute encephalitis syndrome, has them stumped.”

“With help from the [CDC] in Atlanta, [L. S. Chauhan, the director of the National Center for Disease Control in India] started a program this year to train an elite cadre of disease sleuths, part of a recently organized Epidemic Intelligence Service in India that he hopes will eventually undertake the investigations of India’s estimated 1,500 epidemics,” the New York Times reports. “But the outbreak in Muzaffarpur is slowly spreading to neighboring areas, and Dr. Chauhan has thrown everything he can at it, assigning all seven of his trainees — each already an accomplished physician,” the newspaper notes. “Investigators have collected samples of blood, urine and spinal fluid from each of this year’s sick children — there were 133, 59 of whom died — and they asked their parents more than 150 questions about the children’s food, water, sleeping arrangements and villages,” the newspaper writes, adding, “The investigation is like a highly complex puzzle, in which every piece must be solved” (Harris, 7/13).