Litchi causing encephalitis deaths in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district: study

The study establishes relation between litchi consumption and encephalitis after conducting a hospital-based surveillance on 390 patients

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Friday 31 March 2017
According to the study, presence of a naturally-occurring fruit-based toxins in litchis causes hypoglycaemia and metabolic derangement. Credit: Dormiveglia / Flicker

A recent study has linked occurrence of neurological disease—commonly known as encephalitis—to consumption of litchi in Muzaffarpur district in Bihar.

Published in Lancet on March 31, the study recommends minimising Litchi consumption and also ensuring that the evening meal is not skipped as the latter modifies the effect of eating litchis on the disease, which is quite common in summer season and targets weaker section of society.

Researchers from the National Centre for Disease Control (India) and the National Center for Environmental Health, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a hospital-based surveillance to assess potential infectious and non-infectious causes of this acute neurological illness. For this, they considered children of 15 years or younger. Children were admitted to two hospitals in Muzaffarpur for the treatment.

Link between litchi consumption and encephalitis

In a bid to establish relation between litchi consumption and encephalitis, the researchers collected clinical specimen (blood, cerebrospinal fluid and urine) and environmental specimen (litchis). They conducted test for evidence of infectious pathogens, pesticides, toxic metals and other non-infectious causes, including presence of hypoglycin A or methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG), naturally-occurring fruit-based toxins that cause hypoglycaemia and metabolic derangement.

For their research, they considered 390 patients who came for the treatment in two hospitals in Muzaffarpur between May 26 and July 17, 2014. Out of whom, 122 (31 per cent) died. The researchers found that the absence of an evening meal significantly modified the effect of eating litchis on the disease.

They concluded, “To prevent illness and reduce mortality in the region, we recommended minimising litchi consumption, ensuring receipt of an evening meal and implementing rapid glucose correction for suspected illness.”

Outbreaks of unexplained diseases frequently remain under-investigated. In India, outbreaks of an acute neurological illness with high mortality among children occur annually in Muzaffarpur, the country’s largest litchi cultivation region.

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