Brain disease kills 97 Indian children, ‘heat curfew’ imposed as severe heat rages in Bihar state

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he Indian state of Bihar grappled Monday with twin crises, with a brain virus potentially linked to lychees killing almost 100 children and extreme heat leaving 78 people dead. (AP)
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Residents of a housing society cool off with a "rain dance" organized to beat the heat on a hot summer day in Greater Noida, outskirts of New Delhi, India, on June 15, 2019. Many parts of India are experiencing extreme heat conditions. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)
Updated 17 June 2019

Brain disease kills 97 Indian children, ‘heat curfew’ imposed as severe heat rages in Bihar state

  • Officials urged residents to not leave their homes until temperatures fall
  • A heatwave in 2015 left more than 3,500 dead in India and Pakistan

PATNA, India: The Indian state of Bihar grappled Monday with twin crises, with a brain virus potentially linked to lychees killing almost 100 children and extreme heat leaving 78 people dead.

The heatwave — India's second-longest on record — prompted authorities in part of the northern state, one of the country's poorest, to impose curfew-like restrictions.

Daytime temperatures across large parts of India have hovered above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the past 32 days, just one short of a record 33-day period in 1988.

Temperatures touched 50.3 degrees Celsius in the town of Churu in the northern desert state of Rajasthan recently, just below India's record of 51 degrees.

Bihar, home to almost 100 million people, has seen temperatures hovering around 45 degrees for several days.

Severe heat there has killed 78 people -- most of them aged above 50 -- across three districts since Saturday afternoon, local official Sandeep Kumar told AFP.

More than 130 others were undergoing emergency treatment for heatstroke in various hospitals.

Authorities in Gaya district which has borne the brunt of the heatwave invoked an Indian law to prohibit residents from going outdoors for non-essential work.

The district magistrate also banned construction work and any outdoor programme between 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Heatstroke is usually caused by prolonged exposure to sun or from physical exertion in high temperatures.

It has left more than 36 people dead in southern India in recent weeks. Large parts of India are also reeling from drought, with annual monsoon rains late in coming.

Last week four passengers on a train travelling from Agra -- the city of the Taj Mahal -- to Coimbatore in the country's south died from heatstroke.Bihar, home to some of India's worst health indicators, has also been struggling with an outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), a viral infection, since the start of this month.

Eighty children have now died in the state's biggest government-run hospital -- the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), in the city of Muzaffarpur -- and 17 others at a private facility, health official Ashok Kumar Singh said.

Most of the victims had suffered a sudden loss of glucose in their blood, Singh told AFP.

TV channels showed distraught parents sitting next to their children, several of whom were cramped on one bed.

One parent heckled India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan as he took his entourage around the SKMCH for an inspection.

A doctor told a local TV channel that the SKMCH was ill-equipped to handle the rush of patients, most of whom were wheeled in semi-conscious. The outbreak of the disease has happened annually during summer months in the same districts since 1995, typically coinciding with the lychee season.

Several years ago US researchers had said the brain disease could be linked to a toxic substance found in the fruit.

Known locally as Chamki Bukhar, the disease claimed a record 150 lives in 2014.

They also said more study was needed to uncover the cause of the illness, which leads to seizures, altered mental state and death in more than a third of cases.

Outbreaks of neurological illness have also been observed in lychee-growing regions of Bangladesh and Vietnam.


Texas court halts execution in high-profile case

A woman holds a sign during a protest against the execution of Rodney Reed on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Bastrop, Texas. (AP)
Updated 23 min 8 sec ago

Texas court halts execution in high-profile case

  • Millions of people, including US lawmakers and Hollywood celebrities Kim Kardashian and Susan Sarandon, have signed petitions supporting Reed

WASHINGTON: A Texas appeals court has suspended the execution of convicted murderer Rodney Reed — who has long claimed his innocence — in a case that has attracted widespread public attention and a celebrity-backed campaign.
Reed, a 51-year-old African-American, was sentenced to death in 1998 after being convicted by an all-white jury of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman.
His execution by lethal injection had been set for November 20, but Reed says he did not commit the crime, and his lawyers and supporters say that evidence proves he is innocent.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles announced on Friday that it had “voted unanimously to recommend the governor grant a 120-day reprieve” to Reed, who had appealed for clemency.
The state appeals court then halted the execution later in the evening.
Millions of people, including US lawmakers and Hollywood celebrities Kim Kardashian and Susan Sarandon, have signed petitions supporting Reed.
Kardashian said on social media she was with Reed when he received news about the reprieve.
Although traces of Reed’s DNA were found in the victim, he has always maintained that he and Stites were secretly having an affair.
Reed’s lawyers say that evidence obtained after the trial points to another suspect — the victim’s fiance, Jimmy Fennell, a former policeman who later served a 10-year prison sentence for another rape.
“The strong evidence exonerating Mr.Reed and implicating Fennell continues to mount,” the lawyers wrote in the clemency petition lodged with the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott.
In the clemency request, they included a testimonial from a former co-worker of the victim who confirmed the affair.
According to another affidavit, a former prison inmate said he heard Fennell brag during a prison yard conversation about committing the murder.
Fennell has denied involvement in Stites’ murder.
The Texas board declined Reed’s request to downgrade his sentence.
His lawyers also have filed a petition with the US Supreme Court, seeking a stay of execution.