New Delhi: A team of virologists led by Dr T Jacob John at the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore has found that a toxic chemical — Methylene cyclopropyl-glycine (MCPG) — in lychee fruit is responsible for outbreaks of a fatal brain sickness in children in Bihar. The findings are published in Current Science.
MCPG causes hypoglycaemic encephalopathy, a metabolic illness that affects the brain when body sugar levels are low due to fasting or undernourishment. While MCPG was known to be present in lychee seeds, the study established its presence in the flesh of the fruits as well, according to Dr John.
In 2013, at the request of the union health ministry, John camped in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, where many of the deaths had occurred. “Children there were found having low blood sugar levels which aided metabolic diseases,” Dr John has been quoted by The Guardian as saying.
Earlier, viral encephalitis was suspected to be causing the deaths. “When no virus was detected, researchers suspected a toxin from pesticides or from the fruit itself,” said Dr John.
Immediate treatment for victims includes administration of glucose, Dr John added: “Villagers have been told to let children eat the fruit only after a meal.”
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