What is the new mystery epidemic killing India's children?

·3 min read
A woman fans her sick child at the Sarojini Naidu Childrens Hospital, in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. The annual monsoon season brings a spurt in mosquito-borne diseases overcrowding hospitals in most parts of India. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A woman fans her sick child at the Sarojini Naidu Childrens Hospital, in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India. (AP)

With much of India still unvaccinated against COVID-19, a new threat has emerged in the Northern Province of Uttar Pradesh.

A 'mystery' fever has now spread to over 30,000 people in the area and beyond, amid fears of a fresh epidemic. At least 50 people have died, and the new disease seems mainly to attack the young.

Children have suffered joint pains, headaches, dehydration and nausea, alongside severe rashes on their limbs. Although several hundred have been admitted to hospital with the symptoms, none of those affected have tested positive for COVID.

The illness leads to death fast in its severe form. "The patients, especially children, in hospitals are dying very quickly." Said Dr Neeta Kulshrestha, the most senior health official of the Firozabad area, where 32 out of 40 deaths in six districts were amongst children.

Bacterium Orientia Tsutsugamushi Colorized Tem. This Bacterium Is Recovered Of A Cellular Membrane Coming From The Host Cell Mesothelial Origin Of Which It Has Just Come Out See Images 1478507, 1478607, 1478707 And 1478807 For The Bacterium Burgeonning Of The Host Cell. This Specimen Comes From The Peritoneal Cavity Of A Mouse Infected Experimentally. Orientia Tsutsugamushi, Formerly Known As Rickettsia Tsutsugamushi, Is A Bacterium Responsible For Scrub Typhus Or Japanese Flood Ever. It Is A Gram Negative Bacillus, Intracellular Exclusively, That Proliferates Into The Cytoplasm Of The Macrophages, Dthe Endothelial Cells And The Polynuclear Neutrophils ; Therefore It Provokes Its Own Phagocytosis Through Those Cells, Then Live Freely In The Cytoplasm, Then Exit The Host Cell By Budding. Scrub Typhus Is A Disease Characterized By A High Fever 40°C, Cephalgias, Coughs, Obnubilations And An Adenopathy. This Zoonose Is Endemic In Eastern Asia And Western Pacific. It Is Transmitted Through Wild Rodents, That Are Its Reservoir, To Mankind By A Sting Of Trombiculidae Larvae From The Genus Leptotrombidium. Orientia Tsutsugamushi > Orientia > Rickettsie > Rickettsiaceae > Rickettsiales > Proteobacteria > Bacterium. This 1976 Transmission Electron Micrograph Tem Depicted An Extracellular Orientia Tsutsugamushi Rickettsial Micro Organism, Covered With A Distinct Third Outer Membrane Of Probable Host Mesothelial Cell Origin. The Specimen From Which This Image Was Obtained, Was Extracted From The Peritoneal Cavity Of Experimentally Infected Mouse. Formerly Known As Rickettsia Tsutsugamushi, Orientia Tsutsugamushi Is The Pathogen Responsible For Causing The Febrile Disease Known As
The scrub typhus bacterium, potentially thought to be behind the outbreak. (UIG Via Getty Images)

Although medics are still uncertain as to what's causing the devastating disease, some believe that dengue, a mosquito-borne, viral infection could be the culprit.

Back in 2017, researchers demonstrated that antibodies generated by a previous bout of dengue could put a sufferer at risk of more severe disease if the virus was contracted again. 

Read more: The mystery fever killing children in India

Antibody-dependent enhancement, or ADE, happens when the antibodies have fallen into a certain low range. The scientists studied almost 6,700 children between two and 14, over 12 years, giving blood tests annually and assessing any fever symptoms. 

Other scientists however, now suspect that the mystery virus may be due to 'scrub typhus', spread by infected mites, which saw severe outbreaks in India in both 2003 and 2007. 

Watch: Scrub Typhus claims 7 lives in Shimla

Symptoms include fever, headache, aches, and a rash. Most cases have been found in rural areas of Southeast Asia, Indonesia, China, Japan, India, and northern Australia.

A team of experts from Lucknow’s King George's Medical University are looking into the outbreak. India Today reports: "Scrub typhus is a re-emerging...infection, earlier reported in India and other South Asian countries. It is a vector-borne disease.

"Its onset is marked by fever and rashes and it affects the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, renal, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. People with severe illness may develop organ failure and bleeding, which may lead to death."

During the Second World War, the disease was rife amongst soldiers in the Far East, and became prevalent across India.

There is no vaccine against it, but antibiotics are commonly used. Outbreaks are at their highest during the rainy season, which runs from June to September – so many are hoping that this sudden, devastating explosion of disease will taper off as autumn continues.

Watch: Dengue and other fevers kill at least 50 in India

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting