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India Fights Encephalitis Outbreak in Children

Health officials in northern India say a serious outbreak of Japanese encephalitis has infected hundreds of children. Encephalitis is a viral brain disease. It can cause permanent disabilities and sometimes death. It is common disease in South and East Asia during the rainy season.

Experts say the virus spreads easily from country to country. And that it may even be going unnoticed. Every year, hundreds of Indian children die or become physically or mentally disabled after getting Japanese encephalitis. Indian doctors say sick children come to the hospital with symptoms including swelling of the brain, kidneys, liver and heart.

Japanese encephalitis is found in both animals and people. That makes it difficult to eradicate. Pigs and birds can carry the virus in their systems without getting sick. The disease can be passed from infected birds or pigs to people by mosquito bites. The tiny insects feed on the blood of animals and people, and they can transmit several diseases.

The Gates Foundation has studied Japanese encephalitis. The foundation was started by American businessman Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. The philanthropic group is fighting the disease. Health officials say the best way to protect people against Japanese encephalitis is to immunize them with the encephalitis vaccine. They especially recommend that children be vaccinated. Health officials also say that each country's public health agency must be on the lookout for early signs of infection. This way, health workers can take fast steps to stop it.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Laurel Bowman.