Source: The Times Of India
NEW DELHI: The mystery behind the outbreak of an unexplained microbiological illness in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, which had claimed nearly 100 lives each year till 2014, has been solved. Scientists from the US and India, after a joint investigation, have concluded that consuming litchi –a tropical fruit Muzaffarpur is famous for- on an empty stomach triggers the illness and death.
Seasonal outbreak of the mysterious illness, characterised by acute seizures and changed mental status, has been plaguing Muzaffarpur for nearly two decades. Some similar cases have been reported from Malda in West Bengal.
According to researchers, skipping an evening meal results in night-time hypoglycaemia, or low-blood sugar, particularly in children with limited reserve of glycogen -glucose stored in liver and muscles. This triggers oxidation of fatty acids for energy production and generation of glucose. However, naturally-occurring toxins that are found in litchis –hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine (MPCG) – disrupt the fatty acid metabolism, leading to acutely low levels of blood sugar. This further affects brain function, leading to acute seizures and stroke. The research findings have been published in the latest issue of medical journal The Lancet. For years, many theories were proposed for the seasonal outbreak, including the possibility of pesticide exposure and infectious encephalitis, but no one could confirm anything.
In 2013, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in India and US Centre for Disease Control initiated a joint investigation into the matter. The hospital-based surveillance involved laboratory investigations to assess potential infectious and non-infectious causes in 390 children less than 15 years old, who were admitted to Shri Krishna Medical College hospital and Krishnadevi Deviprasad Kejriwal maternity hospital -the chief referral medical centres in Muzaffarpur with sudden neurological illness. Of them, 122 (31%) died.
On admission, 204 (62%) had low blood glucose level. Most of them had consumed litchis and parents said they had missed the evening meal the previous day . Parents in affected villages reported that during May and June, children frequently spent their day eating litchis in orchards and many of them returned home in the evening and did not have a meal.
Litchi has been cultivated in TIRHUT REGION of Bihar since the days of the LICHAVIS….The Worlds first Democracy , way before the Greeks . It is a very popular seasonal fruit . However these days to some vested interests , cash returns from Litchi may be low compared to huge tracts of valuable land being occupied by these Litchi Orchards. So conclusion drawn by this research , like many such American Researches needs to be verified with more data as some of the reasoning mentioned are total suspect . Sometime back CARNEGI UNIVERSITY of USA had carried out a research in probably in a nanosecond and found out that Vegetarian diet was not only bad , it was also responsible for more carbon emission and atmospheric pollution than pork and beef diet .!!! In fact this report or finding was made as an immediate response to Times coverage of all the ill effects of Pork and beef consumption within USA and world wide . It was the retaliation by the mighty meat industry .
In the early sixties one could eat Litchies without paying a single paisa by simply entering the fruit ‘Mandi’ from one end , sampling one Litchi at each counter and finally coming out at the other end. For a rupee you got 100 litchies of the best variety. Nowadays for a kg of Litchi you pay nearly a hundred rupees . So it is obvious that even in an orchard one cannot have a free run nowadays , as to gorge so much that you skip the dinner/ supper. Also children generally will not be allowed to linger on in an orchard say beyond five or maximum six in the evening. Hence it is just not possible that the child , even if he has gorged upon bellyful of Litchie in the afternoon will not feel hungry by nine at night , which by any standard is too early to go to bed in the month of May or June in North Bihar.
In light of the above , there is a definite need to gather more empirical data and carry out more clinical research by others too , before blaming LITCHIE , a wonderful gift for summer season from TIRHUT.