Mystery disease kills 51 in India

2010-10-28 13:26

Lucknow - Doctors in a northern Indian state are struggling to identify a disease that has killed more than 50 people over the past two weeks.

The suspected virus affects mostly children and older people, who suffer from a high fever, vomiting and headaches before succumbing, officials said on Thursday.

"We are not able to identify the virus that is causing the deaths. It could be a mutant form of dengue or malaria, but we are not sure," said SP Ram, the state's top medical official.

"Microbiologists are trying to pinpoint the exact cause."

In the state capital, Lucknow, about 340 people have been sickened and at least 51 have died, said Manish Mishra, a government spokesperson.

Blood samples have been sent to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in New Delhi to identify the disease, Mishra said.

Poor hygiene conditions

Health authorities blamed unhygienic conditions for the spread of the disease, which has particularly hit Lucknow's Khadra neighbourhood.

"We cannot give the exact reason for the deaths, but it could be due to unhygienic living conditions in Khadra," said AK Shukla, Lucknow's chief medical officer.

Heaps of garbage, open drains filled with fetid water and clogged sewers mark the entrance to Khadra, home to around 250 000 people. The community tap, located next to an open drain, supplies darkish brown water, which people use for drinking and cooking.

"We are living in hell. We drink muddy water and live in a neighbourhood full of filth and dirt," said Kamla Maheshwari, a housewife, as she waited for her turn at the community tap.

Nilima Kumari, 25, lost her 2-year-old son Sonu early this week.

"Sonu had a fever. One day suddenly he started vomiting and before we could take him to the doctor, he died," she said, crying as family members tried to console her.

With no regular medical care, residents swarmed a state-run medical camp set up in a small field, where half a dozen doctors treated patients in the open.