Reports of an encephalitis outbreak centred on the northern Indian town of Gorakhpur are starting to filter through. Those most severely affected are mainly children. The area experiences periodic outbreaks of Japanese encephalitis, especially when rain promotes mosquito breeding, but local health authorities say this appears to be different from Japanese encephalitis and are blaming it on contaminated water.
The Micrognome wonders what public health lab assistance is available in this part of India, knowing from recent Lab Without Walls experience that truly portable virology investigation tools are not often in evidence. If the world can muster the technology to put a tablet computer in the hands of children in far flung villages, surely it can spare the time and effort to bolster their defences against a rogue arbovirus or variant enterovirus?
It is encouraging to hear that authorities strengthened the investigating team based at the local BRD Medical College, and the the Centers for Disease Control are assisting with sample analysis (BBC report). Time (and lab results) will tell if this is an emerging infectious disease or not.
Meanwhile, it would be good to hear that public health capability has been permanently strengthened in order to sustain disease control measures arising from preliminary investigations. History suggests that once an outbreak dies down, the issue slips out of the public eye and key disease control measures ease off.