Bihar’s encephalitis outbreak

The death toll due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) mounts to 125 in Bihar, India – and still, it is counting. Bihar’s health department claimed most of the deaths occurred due to hypoglycemia or very low blood sugar levels. And the situation was worsened by a heat wave that saw temperatures crossing 45 degrees Celsius in summer.

It all started with Lychee fruit…

Lychee generally grows in tropical and subtropical climates. It is soft and pulpy, white or pink in color. Lychee is a wonderful fruit with plenty of health benefits which has scientific name Litchi chinensis. The Lychee is packed with many nutrients including vitamin C, B6, niacin, riboflavin, folate, copper, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese.

  • It is a great source of dietary fiber, protein, and a good source of proanthocyanidins and polyphenolic compounds.
  • Increases digestive health
  • Immunity Booster
  • Improves cognition
  • Controls Blood Pressure
  • Improves Blood Circulation

The story does not end here…

  1. Lychee is a very good source of sugars. Hence diabetics should be careful when eating lychees as it may enhance blood glucose levels.
  2. Reverse, excessive consumption of Lychees may also cause lowering the blood glucose levels drastically and leads to hypoglycemia. In specific circumstances, unripe lychees can cause hypoglycemia and dangerous brain dysfunction that may be deadly.
  3. Lychee is considered “hot” food. Sometimes, it may unbalance the body’s nutrient levels.
  4. Excessive consumption of lychees can result in irritated membranes, bleeding nose, fever, or a sore throat.
  5. Consumption of Lychees during pregnancy and Breastfeeding stage is not considered as safe.
  6. Though it is a great source of potassium which helps to improve blood circulation and pressure on blood vessels. It may reduce the blood pressure to extremely low when consumed in excess.

Encephalitis Outbreak…

  1. The outbreak has been happening during summer months since 1995 in the country’s largest lychee cultivating region. Many of the health consultants have linked this outbreak to the naturally occurring toxins in the lychee fruit.
  2. In the year 2017, the Lancet – a major analysis that linked the problem to lychee toxins was published. Summer is considered as the lychee season.
  3. After consuming too much lychee’s, children woke up crying during the night followed by seizures, coma, and often death. Symptoms were shown of hypoglycemia and encephalopathy, or brain dysfunction.
  4. Researchers discovered that children affected had consumed Lychee in excess – didn’t eat evening meals or ate only small ones. Malnourished children or children from poor backgrounds got affected miserably.
  5. The report mentioned two toxins which unripe lychees contain – methylenecyclopropyl glycine or MPCG and hypoglycin A. The metabolites of these toxins were found in the bodies of children who ate the unripe Lychee.
  6. If we look at the human metabolism, glucose is stored in the liver in the form of glycogen. If we do not eat food, the glycogen gets converted into glucose and act as an energy source for body parts including the brain.
  7. However, young children have limited ability to store glycogen in the liver. If they didn’t eat food, the Lychee toxins interfere with the conversion process of glycogen to glucose. Hence, children may experience hypoglycemia. Midnight hypoglycemia is always dangerous and may damage brain function.

A little awareness…

  • For a safe ride, both eastern and western doctors advice consuming no more than six to seven lychees at a time.
  • If anyone consumed in excess, the proper meal should be on priority. Parents should be aware of the fact and should offer a balanced diet and hygiene to their child. Empty stomach eating is recommended.
  • The government should avail proper sanitation convenience like toilets, clean water, etc to these areas. Better access to health care systems is a must.
  • Poverty and illiteracy are the real culprits observed.

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