Explainer: How eating lychees is causing killer brain disease in Muzaffarpur's kids

Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) casualties are reported in the region every year during the cultivation of lychees, linking the fruit to the outbreak. Here's all you need to know about it.

Published: 18th June 2019 07:36 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th June 2019 01:43 PM   |  A+A-


Image of lychee fruits used for representational purpose only (File Photo | AFP)

By Online Desk

Six more children died on Monday in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district, taking the toll from a suspected case of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) to 103. AES casualties are reported in the region every year during the cultivation of lychees, linking the fruit to the outbreak. Here's all you need to know about it. 

What is AES?

AES or Acute Encephalitis Syndrome is a broad term referring to several brain disorders or infections mainly caused by a viral or bacterial attack. Certain toxins and chemicals can also cause the illness, studies have proved. The Japanese encephalitis virus is the most common cause of encephalitis syndrome in India, causing up to 35% of the cases.

What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is a condition caused by a very low level of blood sugar and electrolyte imbalance. It is considered the main reason for deaths among AES-infected kids in Bihar.

ALSO READ | Bihar Encephalitis deaths: Centre to set up permanent multi-disciplinary group

How do lychees cause AES?

Muzaffarpur is India's "lychee paradise" as there are a lot of farms producing the fruit. During cultivation season, children in the locality roam around these farms, eating as many lychees as they like. However, the consumption of the fruit causes hypoglycaemia at night due to an unusual combination of amino acids in the fruits, leading to seizure and coma, and death in many cases.

Are poor kids hit more by AES?

Yes. Consumption of lychees can be dangerous only if you are malnourished. The kids in Muzaffarpur generally skip dinner after eating the fruits and goes to bed with low blood sugar levels. While well-nourished children who eat the fruit remain unaffected even if they go to bed on an empty stomach, insufficient glucose reserves in malnourished children result in the development of AES.

What is the treatment for AES?

Bed rest and having plenty of fluids is important. Corticosteroids are given to reduce brain swelling along with anti-viral medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs are also prescribed to fight fever.


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