The death toll in the suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) outbreak in Muzaffarpur continues to rise, killing over 100 children. Locally known as the ‘chamki fever’, links have been speculated between the disease and the consumption of litchi.
In an exclusive interview with The Times of India, Muzaffarpur-based pediatrician Dr Arun Shah has disclaimed this causal link and said, “People must know that the real culprit is malnutrition and not litchi.”
Dr Arun has been following AES cases since the last 20 years.
He explains that the profiles of the children who have succumbed to the fever had one thing in common: they belonged to the poorest of poor families.
Referring to the 2016 research carried out by pediatrician and epidemiologist Jacob John, Dr Shah said,
If you look at the profile of children who have succumbed to the brain fever or who are reporting symptoms, you’d know they all belong to the poorest of poor families and roam around the litchi orchards in this terrible heat wave the whole day eating whatever they can find, unripe, raw or rotten litchis. They go back home and sleep empty stomach, and wake up in the morning reporting serious AES symptoms.
He added that if litchis were to blame, then cases of the disease should also have been reported in the urban areas of Muzaffarpur.
Litchi contains a toxin called MCPG, which can lead to a drop in sugar levels of malnourished children. It would not affect a healthy child the same way. Therefore, litchi is just a ‘triggering factor and not a reason in itself’, he explained.