With three more children dying, encephalitis is now suspected to have claimed 19 young lives in Bihar, an official said Monday even as the state is running short of kits to diagnose the disease.

The three children died at Anugrah Narain Medical College and Hospital (ANMCH) in Gaya, about 100 km from here, said a district health official. Sixteen children had earlier died of suspected encephalitis.

The children reported high fever, followed by bouts of unconsciousness and convulsions.

Ditaram Prasad, superintendent of the hospital, said till date nearly 50 children with suspected encephalitis had been admitted there for treatment.

"Most of the children were from rural areas of Gaya and neighbouring districts," he said. "More than a dozen children are battling for life," he said.

Health Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey said measures were being taken to check the spread of the disease.

A district administration official said suspected encephalitis hit Gaya in 2009, 2007 and 2005 and killed dozens of children.

Fear of encephalitis is haunting the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) here with 34 samples having tested positive in the last one and a half months.

Ironically, the state health department is running short of Japanese encephalitis kits to test for the infection.

"In view of the seriousness of the issue, ANMCH and PMCH have sent an SOS to the National Institute of Virology, Pune to send the kits soon to diagnose the brain fever," an official of the health department, told IANS.

Two months ago, 51 children died in Muzaffarpur district but the state government is yet to confirm these as encephalitis deaths.

Last month, union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad informed the Rajya Sabha that clinical and epidemiological data suggested it was an outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome, resulting in 150 cases and 55 deaths, mostly among children.

In a written reply, the minister said these cases were reported from early June to mid-July from Muzaffarpur and its bordering areas in Bihar.