Outside the entrance gate of SKMCH, the epicentre of the epidemic, 50-year-old Ram Sharan Shah has stacked a wide range of fruits on his cart. He has been selling fruits outside the hospital for decades. But this year, the best of all fruits, the luscious litchi, is missing on his cart.
“Muzaffarpur is known worldwide for producing litchi. But this year, due to the deaths of hundreds of children, you won’t find litchi here. It’s a big no, no for all sections of the society, although mostly poor kids have died after consuming it,” Shah tells Deccan Herald.
“Rain-god has not been kind to us this year. It’s third week of June. And it has not rained so far. Once it starts raining, there will no more case of encephalitis (in reference to AES, acute encephalitis syndrome). Nor will you then find parents running with their kids in their arm to the hospital,” he hastens to add. He explained that once the temperature comes down from a scorching 45 degree Celsius to 32 degree Celsius after heavy rain, the AES cases will ‘automatically vanish’.
There are scores of people on the SKMCH campus who agree with a commoner like Shah – the fruit seller, who has seen AES cases in Muzaffarpur since 2010.
Inside the hospital, the doctors explain the litchi connection with kids’ death. “Litchis contain MCPG (Methylene Cyclo-Propyl Glycine), which severs the body’s ability to synthesise sugar when blood sugar is low,” said a senior doctor, wishing not to be identified. “When the sugar level drops, the body starts to metabolise fatty acids to produce glucose. However, in malnourished kids exposed to toxins such as MCPG, glucose synthesis is impaired, leading to dangerously low blood sugar and brain inflammation,” he added.
Meanwhile, the hospital Superintendent Dr SK Shahi has written to the district administration that prisoners, undergoing treatment in the hospital, should be shifted elsewhere as there was high influx of kids afflicted with suspected AES. “If the prisoners are shifted elsewhere, I will get an additional 16 bed for those kids who are lying on the ground,” the doctor told Deccan Herald.
Meanwhile, new ACs and air-coolers have been installed (see pix) in different wards to bring down the temperature, even as ‘cloud’ of uncertainty hovers outside the SKMCH.