The outbreak of a mysterious illness in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, which has hospitalised hundreds, has gripped international headlines.
The mysterious illness broke out late on Saturday. It has led to at least 476 people falling sick at the time of writing. One person has died. Symptoms of the mysterious illness include nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, loss of consciousness, anxiety, frothing, and seizures. The patient who sadly lost their life experienced symptoms similar to epilepsy, as have others affected.
“The people who fell sick, especially the children, suddenly started vomiting after complaining of burning eyes. Some of them fainted or suffered bouts of seizures,” said a medical officer at the Eluru Government Hospital as quoted by The Indian Express. A 24-hour control room has been convened by the Andhra Pradesh state government. Andhra Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy visited the Eluru Government Hospital yesterday and later reviewed the situation at a high-level meeting, urging officials to be alert.
A flurry of experts from top medical institutes are investigating the outbreak of the mysterious illness in Eluru – a city in the Godavari district of southern Andhra Pradesh. Scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the National Centre for Disease Control, the National Institute of Nutrition, and the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICR) are among those attempting to identify the cause. A three-member team has been dispatched by the Centre. A World Health Organization team is also investigating the outbreak.
“We ruled out water contamination or air pollution as the cause after officials visited the areas where people fell sick,” said state health minister Alla Kali Krishna Srinivas. “It is some mystery illness and only lab analysis will reveal what it is.” Patients have also tested negative for COVID-19.
A preliminary report indicates that chemical substances found in pesticides play a role in the infection. The substances in question are thought to be organochlorine pesticides used in agriculture and against mosquitoes. One official told the Press Trust of India, in response to a question about whether these substances are involved in the mysterious illness, “mostly yes, but we are waiting for the laboratory report” to come back in order to confirm. The disease has been determined as non-contagious.
The role of heavy metals such as lead and nickel are also being investigated for their role in the mysterious illness, after AIIMS doctors found the metals in patients’ blood samples. Neurotoxic symptoms can arise from heavy metal poisoning. Investigations are ongoing.
“We have received the blood samples of the patients from Eluru,” CCMB director Dr Rakesh Misra told The Times of India. “Doctors are not able to figure out. We will explore any infection in the samples, if it is not an infection and just a chemical or toxin, we may not be able to tell.”
He added, “if it is a bacteria or virus or fungal, we can find out and isolate the causative. It may take a few days as the process is complicated.”