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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Health

A Deadly Outbreak in Nepal
The early, common symptoms are deceptive


IN NEPAL, NORMALLY HEALTHY people are coming down with headaches, high fevers and stiff necks. It may seem like the early stages of an ordinary cold or flu. But symptoms can be deceiving. These are the first signs of encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which has now claimed the lives of about 300 people in Nepal's low-altitude regions.

The disease can be caused by any number of mosquito-borne viruses. Spreading through Nepal is the JE or Japan Encephalitis virus. Symptoms appear between five and 15 days after a bite, and if they are recognized in time, drug treatment and rest can help the victim recover in a matter of days.

But in untreated or especially severe cases, the symptoms can progress: dizziness, double vision, confusion, seizures and coma. "If the encephalitis has reached this stage," says Dr. Lo Wing- lok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong, "it is already too late." Dr. Lo isn't necessarily predicting death, but patients who survive advanced stages of the disease typically are left paralyzed, mentally deficient or both.

The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being bitten in the first place. Travelers to any country where encephalitis is a danger should plan to tour during the dry season and should check rooms (or tents) for mosquitoes before going to sleep. A mosquito net and repellent, used properly, will also do the job. Vaccinations can be effective. Contact your doctor or health department for information on availability.

A tip from Dr. Lo: Stay away from pig pens. Though themselves not affected by encephalitis, pigs and their environs act as natural reservoirs for the virus and its mosquito carriers. The disease isn't contagious between humans, but mosquitoes act as efficient transport vehicles.


IN BRIEF

CONTAMINATED TREATS Routine health inspections in Hong Kong grocery stores recently revealed that the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes had fouled two flavors of Dreyer's ice cream bars (Cookies 'N Cream and Vanilla and Almond). The organism is thought to have infected the bars during their production in the U.S.

The contamination poses little risk to fit, young adults, but children and the elderly are at risk. Symptoms range from merely the uncomfortable -- fever, nausea and diarrhea -- to severe problems like meningitis (inflammation of the brain lining), encephalitis (see above) and septicemia, or blood poisoning.

Listeria grow readily at cold temperatures. In the rich, refrigerated environment of ice cream, they multiply quickly. After the discovery by health inspectors, the Hong Kong distributor of Dreyer's ice cream bars, Mountain Cream International, ordered a recall. So far, no reports of infections have been reported in Hong Kong, and there is no evidence that other flavors are contaminated. No other countries received bars from the tainted batch.

MEASURING UP Children are taller in the morning than in the evening, according to the latest issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood. The reason: the body's weight naturally closes the gaps between vertebrae as the day progresses. The process is called diurnal variation.

This phenomenon does not affect the child's health, but it does affect the accuracy of height measurement and assessment of growth, say the authors of the article. "Even half a centimeter represents a substantial portion of a child's growth rate," they add. -- By Catherine Shepherd


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