There is an alarmingly growing number of deaths in northern India and scientists have linked toxins found in lychee to be the cause of it.
According to the health authorities in the state of Bihar on Thursday, 47 children have already died from acute encephalitis syndrome, a condition that involves inflammation of the brain, over the past few weeks, CNN reported.
There have already been a total of 179 death cases reported since January coming from two hospitals in the city of Muzaffarpur.
“This year, the number [of cases] has gone up a bit. The heat wave has been too intense, and it has gone on for too long,” Sanjay Kumar, a senior state official, said in a statement.
Hypoglycemia, or sometimes referred to as low blood sugar, is being blamed as the cause of these children’s deaths, but health officials are also looking at lychee as the fruit is believed to have some kind of toxin that gets deposited and spreads in the body.
“International experts have told us that lychee has some kind of toxin that goes and deposits in the liver of these children, and when the temperatures go up, those toxins get released,” Kumar said, adding that the city of Muzaffarpur is a lychee-growing area.
“We suspect that there is some kind of role that lychee has in the case. But it is also true that once the temperature comes down and the rains come, lychee or no lychee, there are no more cases,” he continued.
In a study published in 2017 by The Lancet Global Health, researchers looked at the data gathered from the 2014 encephalopathy, or brain disease or damage, outbreak in the area and said that one of the factors was the consumption of lychee.
It was said in the report that children from affected villages often spent most of the day eating lychees from nearby orchards and when they returned home in the evening, these kids don’t usually have the appetite to eat dinner.
Those who fell ill were twice as likely to have skipped a meal, which probably resulted in “night-time hypoglycemia,” according to the researchers of the study.
The Lancet study further explained that once the body’s sugar levels dropped, it would start to metabolize fatty acids to produce a boost of glucose, but the children in the affected area “are from poor families, and they do not have sugar reserves, and they are also malnourished,” said Kumar.
“The liver stores glycogen. When the sugar level goes down, the liver releases extra sugar to balance it out, but if there is no extra sugar and there are only toxins, then they get released,” he said.
There were also evidence discovered in the urine sample from two-thirds of the ill children that showed exposure to the toxins found in lychee seeds. However, if the toxins get released in the body, glucose synthesis would become severely impaired, as said in the study, which could lead to dangerously low blood sugar and brain inflammation.
As the deaths continue to rise, state health officials are sending out warnings to people in the area to keep their children hydrated and to not let them sleep on an empty stomach.