Since the early 90s, the summer months of May and June brought about a mysterious outbreak of seizures and unconsciousness among children in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district. The neurological disease has, over two decades, caused up to 100 deaths a year and has left many doctors and scientists baffled. Until now.
A team of Indian and American researchers have concluded that the cause of the disease is eating too many litchis on an empty stomach.
Image source: B.navez (Self-photographed) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The researchers conducted laboratory investigations with children aged 15 years or younger. Based on their findings, the research report in The Lancet journal suggests “an outbreak of acute encephalopathy (a disease affecting brain structure and functioning) in Muzaffarpur associated with both hypoglycin A and MCPG toxicity.”
Muzaffarpur is one of the largest producers of litchis in India, and is in fact often called “the land of litchis.” While the fruits themselves aren’t a hazard, the amino acid in them can lead to ailments if eaten in large numbers. The impact is higher in case of unripe fruits. The age and overall nourishment of the children are also important factors.
In keeping with their findings, the researchers have recommended “minimising litchi consumption, ensuring receipt of an evening meal and implementing rapid glucose correction for suspected illness”.
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The report brings new hope for the people of Muzaffarpur who have struggled with the disease for more than two decades.
Read the research findings published in The Lancet here.