India: Almost 50 children killed by brain disease linked to toxin in lychees

June 13 , 2019

Almost 50 children have died in northern India over the past three weeks from a brain disease that has been linked to a toxin in lychees, said CNN.

Health authorities in the state of Bihar said Thursday that 47 children have died of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), which is characterized by high fever and inflammation of the brain.

The deaths were reported from two hospitals in the state’s Muzaffarpur district, an area known for its abundant lychee orchards, commented CNN.

AES is a deadly viral infection carried by mosquitoes. In 2015, U.S. researchers said the brain disease could also be linked to a toxic substance found in the exotic fruit, noted The Guardian.

According to The Telegraph, the sweet translucent fruit is believed to induce a fatal metabolic illness called hypoglycemic encephalopathy in children, especially among those who are young and have a poor diet.

It explained that this is because Methylene cyclopropyl-glycine (MCPG), a chemical found in lychee, can affect brain functioning when body sugar levels are low because of fasting or undernourishment.

Currently, at least 40 other children complaining of similar symptoms are being treated at intensive care units, said officials.

“We are trying our best to save them,” The Guardian quoted S. P. Singh, the chief medical officer of Sri Krishna medical college and hospital, as saying.

History of deaths related to lychee toxin

Outbreaks of the disease have occurred in Muzaffarpur and its neighboring districts for more than 20 years, noted The Telegraph.

According to The Guardian, these outbreaks typically coincided with the lychee season.

2014 saw the highest fatality rate associated with the illness when over 150 deaths in India were linked to it.

Official figures have placed the number of reported AES cases so far this year at 48, an increase from 40 in 2018.

Meanwhile, outbreaks of neurological illness have also been observed in lychee-growing regions of Bangladesh and Vietnam, said The Guardian.

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