Mysterious Muzaffarpur Deaths Linked to Toxic Litchi Fruit Eaten on Empty Stomach: Study

Muzaffarpur was aghast for years with an unkown disease which was caused by unripe litchi fruit swallowed by children and adults on empty stomach, said a report published by India’s National Center for Disease Control and the India office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Eaten by malnourished children the harmless fruit caused death. Identified as Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) or termed as ‘hypoglycaemic encephalopathy’, the disease was first studied by vellore epidemiologist Dr. T. Jacob John, which was commissioned by Bihar government. The findings were published last year in “Current Science”, a journal of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Litchi fruit image (Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

“Our research confirmed both ripe and semi­ripe litchis contain a toxin called methylene cyclopropyl­glycine (MCPG) that causes hypoglycaemia in children, which leads to death,” he told TOI last year.

In the last three years, instances of children falling prey to the disease increased in summer mainly owing to eating litchies and Dr Rajesh Yadav from the India Epidemic Intelligence Service who had closely observed in in the city of Muzaffarpur authored the latest report .

The recent study found that the symptoms include acute brain swelling, dramatic fall in sugar levels combined with high fever. In the West known as “Jamaican vomiting sickness” that was caused by ackee fruit, researchers found a certain link as Muzaffarpur lychee is similar to Jamaican ackee fruit.

Now that the mystery has been resolved, doctors are advising Muzaffarpur residents not to allow their children or even adults to eat litchi fruit though it is abundantly found in the villages and children have been eating it on empty stomach.

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