Bhubaneswar: Odd scenes prevailed in capital city Bhubaneswar markets on Wednesday. During peak Litchi season, the delicious little fruits seem to have vanished from the stalls. While apples, mangoes, grapes, bananas are fully stocked, litchis are nowhere to be found. The reason behind missing litchis can be traced to Bihar. Several doctors and medical journals have linked litchis to encephalitis deaths of over 100 children in the State.
Naturally, the fear has trickled down to Odisha as well. Immediately after Health Minister Naba Das ordered laboratory test of litchi on Tuesday, panic gripped people here. Customers have pledged not to consume the fruit. One Prakash Acharya said, “As soon as we heard that the life-threatening disease is caused by litchi, we threw out all the litchis present in our house.”
A very concerned Narayan Tripathy said, “We want healthy fruits. But, now litchis are proving to be dangerous. They are lessening the body’s immunity. Our body is a treasure trove. We would not want anything bad to happen to it.”
Housewife K Pradhan said, “My children have forced me to bring home litchis. But, I am taking apples and guavas for them instead. People should avoid buying something so harmful. In near future, people will start fearing all fruits due to rampant adulteration.”
On the similar lines, Narayan Panda said, “Completely removing litchis from market is not the option. People thought all fruits are natural, but is shocking to know that all fruits are being injected with chemicals. We need to find the root cause where adulteration is happening.”
However, acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) has not been linked to adulteration in litchis. People are not to be blamed for the misinformation as there is not enough awareness regarding this. In Bihar, litchi was a triggering factor for malnourished children who went to bed on an empty stomach and ate the fruit in good quantity.
Litchi contains a toxin called MCPG. Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district is a leading grower of litchi with orchards all around. The poor, malnourished children stay hungry and they pick up to eat anything they find in the gardens like litchis. Moreover, they went to bed on an empty stomach and fell ill in the pre-monsoon season between 4 am to 7 am.
The toxin MCPG has the potential to cause hypoglycaemia, a condition where a person’s blood glucose level (BGL) drops making a person seriously unwell. While well-nourished children who eat the fruit remain unaffected even if they go to bed on an empty stomach, the under-nourished ones are at grave risk. Blood glucose falls sharply causing severe brain malfunction (encephalopathy), leading to seizures and coma, and death in many cases.
While the exact cause of AES is not well-known by public, staying away from litchis is the best and safest option for them. Meanwhile, State Health Minister Naba Das has assured, “Not one case of encephalitis has been reported in Odisha yet. We are well-equipped to fight this problem and if anything happens then we can fully handle it.”