As the entire nation is aggrieved by the deaths of more than 100 kids in Bihar, reportedly due to encephalitis, a section of medical fraternity held the toxins in litchi fruit responsible for the fatalities. However, medical experts haven’t been able to confirm whether it was the toxins in litchi that had actually claimed the lives of the children. The contradicting reports of the various groups of experts, tests conducted in the area, add to further confusion.
Encephalitis, which spreads in the summer when the litchi fruits are in season, is locally known as ‘chamki bukhar’. Reports suggest that the people in these areas are often affected with nervous diseases.
It has been found that toxins in litchi cause harm in under-nourished children who had eaten litchi fruit the previous day and had gone to bed on an empty stomach. In most of the cases, the children died due to hypoglycemia, which is a sudden dip in the sugar levels, especially in the morning after they have consumed not too ripe litchi. The hypoglycemia causes symptoms like vomiting, convulsion and lack of consciousness. The toxins in litchi become particularly dangerous during the harsh summers when the temperature is unbearably high.
However, a group of experts do not agree to this. They claim that having nothing to eat, rather than consuming litchi, is the real reason for these deaths. They say that had the children become ill due to consumption of litchi, then stomach pain would have been reported as the main symptom.
It is said that malnourished children who cannot stand the severe heat during the summer fall ill pretty quickly. Even if it is some sort of viral infection, the authorities haven’t been able to confirm it. High fever, vomiting, disorientation and loss off sight and hearing are some of the symptoms reported in children admitted to various hospitals in Muzzafarpur.
Unlike other places in the North India, the humidity levels at Muzzafarpur are alarmingly high at night, which adversely affect the health of children here. This is observed as the reason why the number of deaths increases during the extreme summer and decreases when it rains.
Hundreds of children have died in Muzzafarpur in the past decade due to encephalitis. The state and the central governments have turned a blind eye to the plight of the poor people and have done nothing to create awareness or arrange basic infrastructure in hospitals to treat such cases. The lack of specially trained doctors and health officials and scarcity of clean drinking water further worsened the situation.
Ashok Kumar Singh, a senior health officer at Muzzafarpur, said that all the children who died had exhibited symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). A group of American researchers, in 2015, have discovered that litchi fruits contain dangerous toxins that can be fatal. Bangladesh and Vietnam are the largest producers of litchi fruits in Asia.