BHUBANESWAR: Incredulous as it may sound, an expert committee constituted by the State Government on Friday said consumption of Bada Chakunda (Cassia occidentalis) seeds led to death of most children in Malkangiri district, not the Japanese Encephalitis (JE) outbreak.
Chairman of the committee Dr T Jacob John said experts, who visited the affected areas and studied the causes of frequent deaths for one week, have come up with a new finding - encephalopathy, which affects brain, has claimed more lives than JE. As per the State Government statistics, 96 children have died and 180 villages in seven blocks of the district have been affected so far. While 32 succumbed to JE, the rest were non-JE cases. As many as 229 children who were admitted in the hospitals have been discharged after treatment.
Asserting that Encephalopathy is a biochemical disease and non-infectious, John said, Cassia occidentalis poisoning in children affects lever, skeletal muscles and brain. Various anthraquinones and their derivatives are usually blamed for Cassia occidentalis toxicity. The chemicals in the toxin often results in permanent brain damage, he said.
“We have evidence to suggest that the disease develops due to anthraquinones, a group of toxins usually found in the plant locally known as Bada Chakunda. The anthraquinones toxins are very harmful,” John, Emeritus Professor of Christian Medical College at Vellore, said. In some cases, children with acute encephalopathy in Malkangiri have close similarity with encephalopathy described in western UP districts, he said.
Children who have consumed raw Cassia occidentalis seeds have been largely affected. Since it is a dose dependent disease, fatality depends on the quantity of consumption.
The team tested five urine samples at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), Lucknow and surprisingly all samples contain that particular toxin.
Dr John said finding of the deadly toxin in urine was very crucial to confirm and though no medicine is available to treat the encephalopathy, it can be easily prevented. “Children and their parents have to be advised not to consume raw Chakunda beans,” he said.
Asked, whether the plants should be uprooted and banned, he said it is not possible since the plant has also some medicinal value. Its leaves are used for deworming and roots for Ayurvedic medicines.
“The Government has to create awareness in the affected areas, asking people not to allow their children to consume the raw seeds,” he added.
On malnourishment that could have compounded the disease, John said it has to be verified. The team has submitted its interim report to the State Government suggesting preventive measures.
It has also recommended further investigation into relative contributions of JE and the encephalopathy along with other causes that may affect the central nervous system.