Lychee may be behind Bihar mystery disease

Indian medical researchers claim to have cracked the riddle behind a 20-year-old mystery disease that killed hundreds of kids in north Bihar for years as doctors remained clueless.

After investigating the last round of the outbreak in Muzaffarpur in 2013, they proposed that the ailment – known as acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) – might be linked to consumption of lychee by malnourished children.

The scientists cautioned not to press the panic button and blame the popular fruit yet, as more studies are being conducted in 2014 to test the theory.

“Muzaffarpur AES may be caused by a toxic substance in lychee. It is not infectious and no virus is involved. It is a metabolic problem and well-nourished children are not affected. If the kids’ nutrition status is improved, the disease can be managed,” T Jacob John, an emeritus professor at Christian Medical College in Vellore who proposed the theory, told Deccan Herald.

The toxic chemical (called MCPG) is in the seeds, but scientists are not sure if some of that chemical is found in the flesh of the fruit, too, and whether its quantity varies in the unripe and ripe fruit.

“All of these theories will be tested at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow in a project supported by the Bihar government,” said ITRC scientist Mukul Das.

The disease is “acute encephalopathy” and not encephalitis, as previously believed.

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