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The mysterious ‘Brain fever’

This encephalitis outbreak is commonly known as brain fever and the state's Muzaffarpur district is chaotic.

In Bihar, more than 110 children who are mostly from rural families have died this very month because of encephalitis.  This is a type of brain disease that have been affecting the Bihari people since a decade. It has been more than two decades since the outbreak. This encephalitis outbreak is commonly known as brain fever and the state’s Muzaffarpur district is chaotic.

According to the recent studies, it has suggested that the natural toxins in lychees are harming undernourished children by blocking their ability to produce enough sugar level, which can lead to death. However, this research is unreliable as in more than half of the cases of encephalitis, children had not consumes lychees.

The Sri Krishna Medical College and hospital, 95 patients have died and it seems like dehydration was to be blamed for it.

So, what is encephalitis?

Encephalitis can be defined as an inflammation of the brain which is caused by a number of viruses. The early symptoms can be of flu with high temperatures and or headaches. However, the symptoms can worsen within hours having serious complications like paralysis, coma and seizures.

How exactly would lychees cause sickness?

In 2014, a research was conducted among 390 children who fell sick because of the virus. Lychees contains hypoglycin A which is an amino acid which can disrupt metabolism, lowering blood sugar levels. If this continues, it can trigger hypoglycaemia and in extreme case death.

India’s National Centre for Disease Control and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that because the brain lacks glucose, it turns to other sources of energy, which gets rapidly depleted and eventually pushes people in coma.

The researchers in their study which was published in the Lancet in 2017 said that, “The synergistic combination of (lychee) consumption, a missed evening meal, and other potential factors such as poor nutritional status, eating a greater number of litchis, and as yet unidentified genetic differences might be needed to produce this illness.”

Is there any other hypothesis?

Officials and doctors are looking for various reasons which may have resulted in encephalitis.  Gopal Shankar Shani, the head of the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital’s paediatric department said, “In my observation it is nothing but an epidemic of heat stroke.”

Similarly, another doctor visiting Muzaffarpur from Mumbai said eating lychees would actually exacerbate dehydration symptoms.  Ravikant Singh said, ” The child is hypoglycaemic and if they eat them it gets worse.”

How Are Authorities reacting to this outbreak?

The victim’s relatives are saying poor hospital facilities have resulted high death toll rate. Two lawyers have filed a petition to the Supreme Court criticizing the government’s “inaction” about the insufficient number of hospital beds and doctors according to the Reuters partner ANI.

Ghosh, who is the District magistrate told the Reuters officials that they were running from door-to-door to create awareness by establishing campaigns in village to make people know about the importance of being clean and hydrated. The campaign also emphasizes on children getting sweets at breakfast in order to maintain glucose levels. The Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has sent a special teams of paramedics and paediatricians to Bihar for assistance. They also have facilitated 10 ambulance services.

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