Is this fruit the reason behind ‘mysterious deaths’ of children in Bihar?
For the past few years, a mysterious illness has been striking the poorer children living in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur town. The illness led to several deaths but the doctors and researchers failed to find a valid reason.
Every year, hundreds were admitted to hospital from around mid-May, peaking in June, complaining seizures and swelling on the brain after waking up in the night screaming. Not just kids, healthy adults also used to complain of sudden seizures and inexplicably slip into a coma.
Of those who suffered the condition, around half tragically died.
But now, researchers, after a lot of struggle, claim to have identified the cause of the distressing illness and it’s shocking.
A joint investigation published by India’s National Center for Disease Control and the India office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta revealed that the otherwise harmful fruit, lychee, when consumed on an empty stomach by malnourished children can lead to death.
Muzaffarpur is India’s largest lychee growing region, and doctors found that the condition coincided every year with the lychee harvesting season, mainly impacting those from the poorest socioeconomic background.
Lychees produce a large amount of a toxin called hypoglycin that stops the body from synthesizing glucose. This leads to dangerously low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. This made them less likely to eat, exacerbating the illness, and eventually causing them to have seizures and slip into unconsciousness.
In 2015, when health officials instructed parents to feed a healthy evening meal to their children instead of the fruit, the number of deaths subsequently dropped down to almost 50 per cent.