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Encephalitis Survivors Face The Risk Of Becoming Disabled

If it doesn't kill its child victims, it leaves them maimed, paralysed and in a semi-comatose state. And perhaps nowhere is the tragedy of Japanese encephalitis as stark as in this forgotten area where the latest bout of// the disease has killed hundreds.

"Encephalitis kills, but even the survivors are rarely able to lead a completely normal life," admits Dr. K.P. Kushwaha of the Gorakhpur Medical College in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the nerve centre of treatment of the brain fever that has killed 620 people in the state since the end of July.

And that is just the official figure. Unofficial tolls put the number of dead as much higher, with some doctors being reported as saying that thousands had died in the fever.

In the Gorakhpur hospital alone, about 450 children have died of the mosquito borne disease in 40 days.

It hasn't spared the living either.

The wards are packed with children - 380 as against a capacity of only 150 - staring vacantly as they struggle to survive.

Eight-year old Himalaya was admitted to the specially created encephalitis unit, headed by paediatrics professor Kushwaha, about 29 days ago. The drips and life support systems were removed after 20 days.

But the child, who has been reduced to bare bones, is apparently unaware of the world around him.

"Yes, some mental faculties are bound to have got affected and that is why he does not seem to respond. Our focus was on saving his life and there is not much we can do about the impairment," says Dr Bhupendra Sharma, who supervises the ward, helplessly.

There are others like Himalaya.

Harinder was brought to the medical college from Kushinagar about 10 days ago. "He is out of danger, but it is difficult to say when he would become normal," says Sharma.

Likewise, there is little hope that six-year-old Izhar will ever live a normal life. After 24 days in hospital, he has survived the di
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