Doctors are fighting the outbreak of a mysterious disease that has killed more than 100 children in one of the most backward regions of south India. A further 600 children, aged between four and 10, have been admitted to hospitals in the Karimnagar, Warangal and Adilabad districts of the state of Andhra Pradesh, on the southwest coast. State Health Minister Kodela Sivaprasad Rao said yesterday that the disease caused high fever, headache, diarrhoea and convulsions, with most victims dying within 24 hours of being taken to hospital. 'Whatever the cause may be, the outbreak is assuming epidemic proportions since the first cases were detected last week,' Mr Rao admitted. He said that Japanese encephalitis, or brain fever, was responsible for five deaths, but that the others remained undiagnosed. Officials say they hope to determine the cause of the deaths after doctors from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in New Delhi, and the Institute of Virology in Pune, where blood samples have been sent, submit their reports next week. Meanwhile, authorities have launched a publicity campaign urging parents to report the symptoms to health centres as soon as possible to save lives. But medical facilities in the region are sub-standard and hospitals are ill-equipped to cope with the many young patients. There have been reports of the parents of dead children demonstrating outside health centres, accusing doctors of negligence. Japanese encephalitis kills thousands of poor people, particularly children, in Andhra Pradesh every year. Medical experts say that pigs are carriers of the virus, which is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. Repeated campaigns to put an end to pig rearing have failed in the absence of alternative occupations.