HEALTH DEPARTMENT officials are a puzzled lot these days as identification of the mysterious virus, which has killed over 300 people and infected around 1,800 people mostly children, remains a distant dream. The virus continues to be on the prowl in eastern and western Uttar Pradesh even eight months after it started infecting people.

The health department had sought the assistance of National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD), New Delhi, National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune and Centre for Research and Medical Entomology (CRME), Madurai for the identification of the virus. Teams from all the three institutes visited Saharanpur, Gorakhpur, Basti, Kushinagar. Maharajganj and Muzaffarnagar for about five months to collect blood samples of the persons infected for laboratory test. "But we are yet to receive a report from these institutes. The patients admitted in the hospitals are being given symptomatic treatment. We are admitting them in the hospitals as suspected encephalitis cases", said an officer.

In August a conference of paediatricians was held at Saharanpur to discuss the outbreak of the viral disease in west UP and deaths of children. In the meeting the paediatricians came to the conclusion that children were falling ill due to consumption of a local plant - Cassia-Oxiecntalis. Local people were asked to keep away from the poisonous plant that was snuffing out their lives. Still the virus continues to infect children and the tally had reached 50 in October. The mysterious virus spreads its tentacles in the districts of western Uttar Pradesh usually during winter.

Besides alerting the local hospitals, the health department has again sought the assistance of NICD to identify the virus. Director General Medical Health Dr LB Prasad had written to the Union health and family welfare department to send a team for identifying the virus. The Additional Director, NICD said informed the DG that a five-member team consisting of two officers from NICD and three doctors from Maulana Azad Medical College and Safdurjung Hospital would visit Saharanpur in the last week of October to collect the blood samples of the patients for laboratory test. "We are still banking on the study conducted by the NIV, NICD and CRME for the identification of the killer virus.