More than 100 Indian children died after 'eating lychees on empty stomach'

More than 100 Indian children died after 'eating lychees on empty stomach'

Now researchers have identified the cause of this distressing illness, putting it down to consuming large amounts of lychee fruit on an empty stomach. Locally, the disease was named "chamki ki bimari", or "tinsel disease". Here's what the researchers in India and U.S. concluded.

It turns out that compared with kids who didn't suffer symptoms, the odds were 9.6 times greater that a stricken kid had eaten lychees, 6.0 times greater that the kid had visited a lychee orchard, and 2.2 times greater that the kid had missed dinner the night before.

Research published on Tuesday has finally claims to have solved the mystery, suggesting the children were not ill, but had been poisoned by eating too many lychees on an empty stomach. It has been found that litchi contains certain natural toxins, mainly said to be in the seeds.

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The amino acid is also found in other fruits of the same family like rambutan, longan and ackee. This would explain why only some children fell ill, even when everybody was eating the fruits.

Specimens of blood, cerebrospinal fluid and urine as well as litchis were tested for evidence of infectious pathogens, pesticides, toxic metals. Doctors report that their attempts to keep the children hydrated bear little result, as majority succumb within hours. Additionally, the lychees examined also contained the two chemicals, with the highest concentrations in immature lychees. The research, published in the medical journal The Lancet, was conducted by team of researchers from United States and India.

Unfortunately, this resulted in night-time hypoglycemia. The researchers believe the outbreaks are probably caused by a combination of poor nutrition, eating lychees, and other unrecognized genetic variances. "Our hypothesis is that the Muzaffarpur illness is caused by MCPG in litchi", says the paper.

With that established, the investigators asked participants if they would be comfortable issuing recommendations based on their findings: that young children in the affected areas be encouraged to always eat an evening meal, and that consumption of lychees should be limited. "Guidance should be developed for the consumer, especially children but also adults who have a susceptible metabolic profile or who eat fruit after fasting". In two seasons, the number of reported cases per year dropped to less than 50 from hundreds, thus establishing that consumption of the fruit combined with skipping evening meal was the reason behind the deaths.

Researchers examining the sick children at a hospital in Muzaffarpur between May and July 2014 were able to establish a link to another such outbreak in the Carribean that caused brain swelling and spasms in children.