Researchers has confirmed that a toxic chemical presence in the fruit of Asian lychee tree is responsible had been killing malnourished children in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur for years, where the fruit is commercially grown.
Bihar, the largest producer of litchis in the country, had witnessed several mysterious deaths from Methylene cyclopropyl-glycine, chemicals found in the summer fruit, that causes hypoglycemic encephalopathy when blood sugar levels are low in the body. Hypoglycemic encephalopathy causes convulsions and coma.
The National Centre for Disease Control and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began an investigation in 2013 into the illness. The doctors have now linked to litchis, as cases had been reported from as early as 1995 and the studies were published in The Lancet.
According to the journal, the disease, which seemed similar to Japanese encephalitis, would break out every year in mid-May and the cases would be at their highest in June.
Every year, parents and doctors would go into a tizzy trying to figure what was so many deaths. Dr Rajesh Yadav, who was with the India Epidemic Intelligence Service, told The New York Times, “They were in a kind of panic... Their children were dying, and it was an unknown thing.”
Poor and undernourished children living near the orchards usually fell prey to the decease. “The victims had signs of brain cell damage and seizures, indicating that a toxin and not just undernourishment was causing the disease,” Dr T Jacob John of Vellore’s Christian Medical College was quoted by The Guardian.
It has been a mystery for years as doctors were unable to figure out the reason behind the illness. The scientists reportedly carried out tests on more than 300 children and found that the children had low blood-sugar levels that led to the illness.
To prevent the disease doctors have suggested that children in the area are given an evening meal during the breakout period to reduce risk of the disease.