As poor children are dying in scores in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), one of the culprits is identified a fruit by some medical experts. Incidentally, Bihar tops in producing litchi among all the states in India.
According to government sources, litchi is grown across 32 thousand hectares in the state, producing 300 thousand metric tonnes in 2017. Bihar alone contributes about 40 percent to the total litchi production in the country. And Muzaffarpur’s contribution is quite significant. And this is one district that has been reporting mass death of children year after year.
But how would one see a link between children’s death and litchi fruit?
Between 2011 and 2013, a team of experts from the National Centre for Disease Control, New Delhi and the Centre for Disease Control conducted an extensive study to find reason for the unnaturally high numbers of hospitalisation of children. The findings suggested a close link between litchi cultivation and AES outbreak among children.
It was found that children who ate litchi on empty stomach fell ill in the pre-Monsoon season. Experts said the toxic chemical, methylene cyclopropyl-glycine (MCPG), found in litchi would affect the brain when blood sugar is low (hypoglycaemia), causing the illness. The deadly combination of malnourishment, low blood sugar and MCPG toxin could wreak havoc with children’s health, the study said.
Although, some experts blame the ongoing heat wave in Bihar for the high number of children’s death in summer, we may exercise caution while eating litchi — certainly, not my fruit when hungry.