Encephalitis outbreak kills 390 in India's Gorakhpur

File photo of child suffering from viral encephalitis in a Gorakhpur hospital The disease is caused by contaminated water

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At least 390 people, mostly children, have died in an outbreak of viral encephalitis in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, officials say.

More than 2,500 patients were admitted to government hospitals in Gorakhpur city this year, Press Trust of India quoted a health official as saying.

At least 270 patients were still being treated at the hospitals, he said.

Nearly 6,500 children have died of encephalitis in the region since the first case was detected in 1978.

The disease occurs regularly during the monsoon in Gorakhpur and adjoining districts which border Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The low-lying areas are prone to floods, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes which commonly transmit the virus.

Doctors say affected patients come from 10-12 districts in the region, and are mostly rural poor.

Until 2005, the majority of deaths were caused by Japanese encephalitis, caused by a mosquito-borne virus, doctors say.

But in the past six years, children have been dying of other forms of viral encephalitis, the exact cause of which is unclear.

The diseases cause head aches and vomiting and can lead to comas, brain dysfunctions, seizures and inflammations of the heart and kidney.

Doctors say children between the age of six months to 15 years are the worst affected.

A fifth of the children who survive have to live with neurological weaknesses, doctors say.

The government says it has tried to check the regular outbreak of the encephalitis in the region.

The encephalitis outbreak in Gorakhpur has attracted national and international attention - scientists from US-based Centers for Disease Control visited the area in 2009, and took away medical samples to examine the virus.

In 2005, a virulent outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in Gorakhpur killed 1,000 people, mostly children. This was the worst outbreak since 1978.

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