June 18 (UPI) -- Indian officials said Tuesday that encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain commonly caused by a viral infection, has killed more than 100 people in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar.
India's National Human Rights Commission has notified the Union Health Ministry and Bihar government of the outbreak due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome. Officials said mostly children have fallen ill during the outbreak that has killed 103 so far.
Health officials have blamed hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, for the children's deaths but added that lychee fruit, which is widely grown in the region, could also be a cause. Senior health official Sanjay Kumar said the lychee has a toxin that deposits in the liver and releases during high temperatures.
"The fact is that [Muzaffarpur] is a lychee-growing area, we suspect that there is some kind of role that lychee has in the case," Kumar said. "But it is also true that once the temperature comes down and the rains come, lychee or no lychee, there are no more cases."
The human rights commission, though, pointed to a "flaw" in administering vaccines that led to the rise in deaths.
"The commission has observed that in spite of reported measures taken by the government agencies, deaths of children in such a large number indicate towards a possible flaw in the proper implementation of the vaccination and awareness programs," the commission said in a statement Monday.
"Not only vaccination but all precautionary measures, such as cleanliness and hygiene, etc. are also required to be taken sincerely to ensure that young kids do not fall prey to the fatal disease. It is a case of violation of human rights of the victim children and their families, as the State appears to have failed to protect the young innocent lives."
The Mayo Clinic said more severe cases of encephalitis can cause numerous symptoms like confusion, agitation or hallucinations, seizures, loss of sensation or paralysis in certain areas of the face or body, muscle weakness, problems with speech or hearing and loss of consciousness.