The mysterious deaths of children in Bihar had foxed the medical fraternity for long. For many years doctors were unable to understand about their strange illness resulting in death. It is only now things have come to light after scientists undertook tests on a sample of over 300 children to discover it was low blood-sugar levels causing the illness.
This uncanny disclosure comes after researchers confirmed that a chemical present in litchees had been killing malnourished children in Muzaffarpur for years. The region had been witness to several mysterious deaths from Methylene cyclopropyl-glycine chemicals found in litchees, a summer fruit, causing hypoglycemic encephalopathy when blood sugar levels were low in the body.
Hypoglycemic encephalopathy causes convulsions and coma. To prevent the disease doctors now suggest children in the area be given a full evening meal to reduce risk of disease. National Centre for Disease Control, India and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started an investigation in 2013 about this illness. Cases being reported since early 1995 have now been linked to litchees!
The research reports that the disease appearing similar to Japanese encephalitis would break out every year in mid-May with highest cases getting reported in June. Every year parents and doctors would be grievously perplexed about the resultant deaths of the children. The disease mostly affected poor and undernourished children living near the orchards.
Unexplained illness in children aged 15 years and younger in Muzaffarpur claiming their lives has now been solved. It was found that consumption of litchees and skipping evening meal result in very low blood glucose level (less than 70 mg/dL) and acute encephalopathy including seizures and coma, causing the deaths in many cases.
Dr T Jacob John of Vellore’s Christian Medical College stated “The victims had signs of brain cell damage and seizures, indicating that a toxin and not just undernourishment was causing the disease.” The study shows the mal-effect of skipping the evening meal to impact through these toxins. These results are published in the journal Lancet Global Health.
With infectious causes ruled out and most sick children having low blood glucose levels the team began investigating the role of toxins, exposure to pesticide, insecticide and heavy metals and so on. Following up leads from cases of toxic hypoglycemic syndrome in West Indies caused by hypoglycin A toxin found in ackee fruit, the same family as litchee, was what started off the hypothesis and subsequent investigation.