There is no litchi link with the deaths of children in Bihar

NEW DELHI: Almost half of the children who died due to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur de Bihar in mid-2019 had no history of litchi consumption, while most of the rest were less than two years old and, by Therefore, they could not eat the fruit, preliminary studies have concluded by discarding litchi toxins as from those deaths.

Following these findings, the Indian Council (ICMR) ordered further investigation to determine the cause of the sudden increase in deaths due to AES in Bihar last year. The Council will launch a study in April-May with the start of summers to investigate the matter, an official said.

“So far, most of the investigations, both from India and international, have ruled out the consumption of lychee as a cause of these deaths. Therefore, more research is required to determine the cause and capture it, ”the official told TOI.

In June 2019, Bihar witnessed a sudden increase in AES-related deaths with more than 125 deaths and more than 550 cases registered in the state. While the state government blamed the heatwave and litchi toxins as the cause of these sudden deaths, public health experts and researchers have pointed out that malnutrition and poor health infrastructure in the state contain the disease.

After the large number of deaths, the Center designated teams that include researchers from ICMR, the National Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Nutrition, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Atlanta to Muzaffarpur to determine the cause of the deadly disease.

Physicians, pediatricians and epidemiology experts at the AIIMS in New Delhi, Safdarjung Hospital and public health experts from WHO and UNICEF also conducted initial studies in Bihar to determine the cause.

Preliminary findings also indicated that the cause is of non-infectious origin, which means that it is not a virus, any bacteria, fungus or a living organism. Health experts say it is hard to believe that litchi is the cause of death. There is a particular component in the fruit that can help reduce the level if too many are consumed on an empty stomach, but there have to be other factors, said a public health expert working in Muzaffarpur.

Official data suggests that the Bihar government had been indifferent towards improving child nutrition and medical care in this district.

In Muzaffarpur, almost 48% of children under 5 are stunted, 17.5% are drunk (too thin for their height), while 42% are underweight, an obvious sign of chronic malnutrition , according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) -4.