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Brain Fever Claims Lives of Over 150 Children, More Deaths Feared

India’s Supreme Court ordered an investigation on Monday into an ongoing encephalitis outbreak in the eastern state of Bihar which has killed at least 152 children so far.

Expressing concern over the deaths, the country’s top court ordered state and federal authorities to explain what measures they have taken to combat the spread of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), also known as “brain fever.”

“The deaths of children are a direct result of negligence and inaction” on part of authorities, said Manohar Pratap, an activist lawyer who petitioned the court, DW reported.

Authorities now have seven days to send information about medical facilities, sanitation, nutrition and hygiene conditions in the state.

Over 700 cases of encephalitis have been registered in Bihar state since the outbreak began at the beginning of June.

Bihar state is one of the poorest regions in India, with some of the worst child health statistics anywhere in the world.

According to Al Jazeera, AES is mainly caused by dehydration and malnutrition. Early symptoms are similar to those of flu, with patients suffering from high temperatures or headache. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the illness, which can cause swelling of the brain, fever and vomiting.

About 6,000 deaths from encephalitis occurred in India between 2008 and 2014, with Bihar accounting for 1396 of those fatalities since 2008.

Muzaffarpur, with a population of nearly 5 million people, is the epicentre of the crisis. Of the 719 AES cases reported in Bihar this year, 602 were registered in the district alone.

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The outbreak has been exacerbated by a record heat wave in the region, with temperatures in cities such as Patna and Gaya hovering above 45 degrees Celsius and killing over 180 people.

Some studies have blamed the AES outbreak on lychees, a fruit grown in abundance in orchards around Muzaffarpur.

With rain predicted for the next few days, it is feared that there could be more deaths, as experts the crisis would be over with the first rain.

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