Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Probe into India hepatitis deaths

Hepatitis patient in Gujarat hospital
Doctors have not been able to explain the spread

Health authorities in India have begun investigations into a number of deaths caused by hepatitis B in the western state of Gujarat.

Twenty five people have died of the disease in the past two weeks in Sabarkantha district.

An official said early investigations pointed to the prevalence of a "mutant virus" in affected patients.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

The virus can be transmitted via unprotected sex or sharing of contaminated needles. Pregnant mothers also tend to pass it on to their babies.

'No pattern'

Sabarkantha district official M Thennarasan told the BBC that another 26 people had been admitted to a local hospital with symptoms of hepatitis B.

Women and children have been among the dead.

"We have had teams from Delhi and the state who are investigating the cause of the spread of the disease," he said.

"Preliminary investigations show the presence of a mutant virus in patients. But as of now we have no idea why hepatitis B has spread in a number of adjoining areas."

Mr Thennarasan said there was "no pattern" in the class and work profile of the patients, and that there was no information as to whether they had taken similar injections recently.

The virus can cause fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Chronic carriers have an increased risk of developing liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer, because the hepatitis B virus steadily attacks the liver.

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