J P Mandal, a senior doctor at Shri Krishna Medical Coillege and Hospital in Muzaffarpur told rediff.com that the children died after developing symptoms of suspected encephalitis (an acute inflammation of the brain caused by a virus). The children caught sudden high fever followed by attacks of convulsions and unconsciousness that led to their deaths.
"The children, all in the age group of four to ten, who have succumbed to the disease had symptoms similar to encephalitis," Mandal said.
Nearly fifty children still suffering from high fever are being treated at the SKMCH and other hospitals including private clinics in Muzaffarpur, district health officials said "Over a dozen new patients complaining of high fever, severe headache, vomiting were admitted to the hospital in the last 25 hours," a staff of SKMCH said.
Dr A K Singh, civil surgeon, Muzaffarpur denied that encephalitis had claimed the lives of the children, but admitted that the symptoms were similar. "Medical authorities have collected samples which have been sent for tests in virology laboratories at Pune and Kolkata. The medical reports were still awaited," Singh said.
Alarmed by a likely outbreak of suspected encephalitis, Amarjeet Sinha, principal secretary of the state health department, on Friday visited the SMCH in Muzaffarpur.
Sinha said that a team of doctors from the Patna-based Regional Malaria Research Institute would visit Muzaffarpur on Saturday and collect samples, which would be sent outside the state for testing.
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi also directed district officials to take preventive measures to check spread of the unknown disease.
Doctors in Muzaffarpur said that last year during the May to June period suspected encephalitis had hit Muzaffarpur and claimed the lives of over two dozen children.