Death toll from Japanese encephalitis grows

An outbreak of Japanese encephalitis has killed more than 1,000 people across South Asia, most of them children.

The death toll from the mosquito-borne disease reached 1,054 after Nepalese officials reported that 271 people have died in the Himalayan kingdom. The death toll in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state rose Tuesday to 783, with 16 people dying the previous day, said O.P. Singh, the state's top health official.

But the disease appears to be on the wane in Nepal with the end of monsoon rains, said Harinath Acharya, spokesman at the Health Ministry in Katmandu. The rains create puddles and ponds where the mosquitoes can breed.

The higher numbers from Nepal reflect delayed reports of deaths reaching health officials, Acharya said.

Officials have faced great difficulty in gathering data from Nepal, as most deaths have been in rural villages in southern Nepal that are far from towns and cities and often reachable only by narrow dirt roads.

Until last week, officials were only reporting 204 people killed by the disease.

Most of the deaths were in and around villages in the border city of Nepalgunj, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) west of Katmandu.

"We have already lost 64 patients this year. But the number has gone down in the past few days ... we are now getting only about five new patients every day," said Arjun Gautam, an official at Bheri Zonal Hospital in Nepalgunj.

The hospital was running short of medicines, and poor patients were unable to afford to buy the drugs at private pharmacies, which are more expensive.

In the last two months, the few hospitals in the area have been overwhelmed by patients. Hospital staff have been forced to put patients on the floor and in storage rooms.

Japanese encephalitis has sickened 1,665 people this year in Nepal, the AP reports.

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