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Litchi toxin or heatwave? Medical expert explains what caused encephalitis outbreak in Bihar

India TV's medical expert, Dr Shekhar Vashishth, says while the litchi toxin is proven to be harmful for children, the main causes of the sudden spike in death toll are the extreme weather and unhygienic conditions.

India TV News Desk India TV News Desk
New Delhi Updated on: June 18, 2019 23:35 IST
Malnourished children stay hungry and they pick up to eat
Image Source : FILE/AP

Malnourished children stay hungry and they pick up to eat anything they find in the gardens.

The death toll due to encephalitis outbreak in Bihar's Muzaffarpur is on a continuous rise -- with the latest numbers pointing to 107.

Unofficial reports, however, say more than the reported numbers might have died. Children from far-off villages could have died before being brought to hospitals, reports add.

The purported causes behind such an outbreak are speculated to be multifold -- one of them being consumption of litchis, or lychees.

Litchi is a small juicy tropical fruit, and is typically consumed fresh. It is often used in other food items, including ice creams, or processed into juice.

Research shows that litchis contain hypoglycin A, a toxin that prevents the body from making glucose and affects young children whose blood sugar levels are already low. The toxin affects more when the children consume litchis on an empty stomach; and under conditions of a heatwave.

But is the same toxin responsible for the recent deaths in Bihar's Muzaffarpur?

A senior consultant in paediatrics, Dr Shekhar Vashishth, says while the toxin is proven to be harmful for children, the main causes of the sudden spike in death toll are the extreme weather and unhygienic conditions.

"The toxin is actually harmful and caution should be practised while consuming litchis. But it would be an exaggeration to say the toxin is responsible for these deaths," Dr Vashishth told India TV.

He added, "The root cause is the hot and humid weather in the area. Generally, temperatures drop by the night in North India, but in this belt [Bihar's Muzaffarpur], humidity increases. And the hygiene is also improper."

Malnourished children stay hungry and they pick up to eat anything they find in the gardens, Dr Vashishth further said.

Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited Muzaffarpur district, on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had visited SKMCH to review the situation.

Both ministers assured that steps were being taken in order to minimise the fatalties and facilitate better treatment for the affected.

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