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Lychee Toxins Linked To Brain Disease Kills 47 Children In India

At least 47 children in India have reportedly died since May from a brain disease linked to lychee toxins. Health authorities noted that the children suffered from inflammations of the brain and similar cases continue to surface.

Last Thursday, Bihar health authorities revealed 47 children have died of acute encephalitis syndrome in the last three weeks, reported CNN. Since January, there had been a total of 179 cases of the condition in two Muzaffarpur hospitals, but casualties were only reported in the past two weeks.

At least 351 people have died from encephalitis in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in 2013. This year, however, more people have died from it. According to senior state health official Sanjay Kumar, the heat wave has become too intense and has been continuously recurring.

The state health department suggested that hypoglycemia or low blood sugar level is the primary cause of the deaths. They, however, suspected that the fruit lychee -- widely grown in the area -- and its seeds also contributed to the deaths.

Kumar said that the international experts have warned the vicinity about lychee’s toxins which, when consumed, are deposited into the liver of children. Afterward, they will have fever when the toxins are released. However, Kumar did say that a change in temperature levels from hot weather to cold halted the rise of encephalitis cases even if the patients consumed lychees.

A previous study conducted in 2014 and published in The Lancet Global Health medical journal last 2017 revealed that one of the contributory factors of developing encephalopathy was the consumption of lychee. Researchers found that children in affected villages regularly consumed lychees from nearby orchards. When they went home at night, they allegedly lost their appetites and skipped dinner. They were said to have suffered “night-time hypoglycemia.”

The children’s blood sugar levels also significantly dropped as their bodies started to metabolize fatty acids to promote the generation of more glucose. After checking the urine samples of the children, it was then found that they were exposed to toxins from lychee seeds which is higher in unripe fruits. Researchers then concluded that the toxins impaired glucose synthesis and this resulted in significantly low blood sugar levels and brain inflammation.

Encephalitis syndrome is a condition that causes inflammation of the brain. Its symptoms include fever, delirium and patients even end up becoming comatose in most cases. The contributory factors of the brain disease include malnourishment, heat and humidity.

Kumar said that the casualties were from poor families who do not have sugar reserves and were commonly malnourished. They were most likely to develop the disease since the body needs sufficient amounts of glucose for the liver to function properly. Without which, the body would only release toxins that adversely affect other bodily processes and lead to encephalitis.

Lychee Closed and sliced lychee fruit. Steve Buissinne/Pixabay