An outbreak of acute encephalitis of unknown origin with high case fatality (183 of 329 cases) was reported in children from Andhra Pradesh state in southern India during 2003. We investigated the causative agent.
Cell lines and peripheral blood lymphocyte co-cultures were used to isolate the causative agent from clinical samples. Identity of the agent was established by electron microscopy and serological and molecular assays.
Clinical samples tested negative for IgM antibodies to Japanese encephalitis, West Nile, dengue, and measles viruses, and for RNA of coronavirus, paramyxovirus, enterovirus, and influenza viruses. Virus was isolated from six patients with encephalitis and was identified as Chandipura virus by electron microscopy, complement fixation, and neutralisation tests. Chandipura virus RNA was detected in clinical samples from nine patients. Sequencing of five of these RNA samples showed 96·7–97·5% identity with the reference strain of 1965. Chandipura viral antigen and RNA were detected in brain tissue of a deceased child by immunofluorescent antibody test and PCR. Neutralising, IgG, and IgM antibodies to Chandipura virus were present in some patients' serum samples. Serum samples obtained after 4 days of illness were more frequently positive for IgM to Chandipura virus than were those obtained earlier (p<0·001). A similar trend was noted for neutralising antibodies.