Litchi Behind Mystery Illness in Kids

Early this week, an article in the New York Times reported a research that has apparently found the why kids in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur were suffering from fever and seizures for years. The reason - litichi (lychee).

 

In 2014, 390 children were hospitalised for fever and seizures, 122 didn’t make it back home. Researchers observed that the disease reared its head every summer and miraculously disappeared by the time the rains set in. In 1995, the phenomenon was attributed to heat stroke, infections carried by rats, bats or sand flies and even pesticides used in the nearby litchi orchards. However, none of these proved to be a definite culprit.

 

Finally, a joint investigation conducted by India’s National Center for Disease Control and the India office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta made a breakthrough. They found that litchi when eaten on an empty stomach by malnourished children can prove to be fatal.

 

The study, which has been published in British Medical Journal, The Lancet Global Health, reported that the outbreak was due to hypoglycin and methylenecyclopropyl glycine - toxins found in raw litchis that limit the body’s ability to synthesize glucose. This led to acute hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose levels which then developed further complications such as abnormal metabolic imbalances, fever and convulsions.

 

Muzaffarpur with several plantations around the region, produces most of India’s litchi harvest. It is therefore, easy for anyone, especially children, to consume raw litchis.

 

So does it mean we need to stop eating litchis? Well, we have been enjoying the fruit all along without any issues, isn’t it? What is to be noted that the kids who fell prey to the disease were malnourished and often ate huge quantities of the raw fruit on an empty stomach. So eat as many ripe litchis if you love them, just stay away from eating raw ones on an empty tummy.

 

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