Muzaffarpur, Bihar: Every year, in the scorching heat of May-June, an epidemic hits Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Children suffer from fever, have seizures, convulsions and eventually slip into coma.
In 2014, 390 children were admitted to the hospital exhibiting symptoms of fever and convulsions and later, 122 of them died. This left the community of doctors and experts baffled.
The mystery behind the deaths was recently solved by a research team comprising American and Indian doctors.
The investigation found that eating too many litchis on an empty stomach is the cause behind the deaths.
How Litchis Led To Deaths
A toxic chemical present in litchis, when eaten on an empty stomach, led to a fatal brain sickness known as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome.
According to the study, children who fell ill were twice as likely to have skipped dinner, resulting in night-time hypoglycaemia.
With the blood sugar level of children dropping, the body would begin the metabolism of fatty acids to produce glucose. However, the presence of Methylene cyclopropyl-glycine (MCPG) and Hypoglycin A severely impaired glucose synthesis leading to low blood sugar and an inflammation of the brain.
Litchi is grown in abundance in Muzaffarpur and contributes to 70 per cent of India’s litchi production and May-June are the peak harvest time.
According to the study published in The Lancet, parents said that children in the affected villages spent most of the day eating litchis from the orchards in the area. They added that upon returning home in the evening, children were often not interested in eating a meal. Most of the children developed symptoms of seizures during early hours of the morning and were brought into hospitals unconscious, according to the parents.