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Did Pesticides Lead to Mystery Illness in Andhra Pradesh's Eluru? Probe On After Over 400 Affected

A woman showing symptoms of epilepsy being taken to a hospital in Eluru town of West Godavari district on December 6, 2020. (PTI Photo)

A woman showing symptoms of epilepsy being taken to a hospital in Eluru town of West Godavari district on December 6, 2020. (PTI Photo)

The unknown illness has infected more than 300 children, with most of them suffering from dizziness, fainting spells, headache and vomiting. They have tested negative for COVID-19.

Bhubaneswar: Authorities in Andhra Pradesh are investigating if organochlorines used as pesticides or in mosquito control caused the death of one person and hospitalisation of more than 400 in the state in the past few days, a health official said on Tuesday.

The unknown illness has infected more than 300 children, with most of them suffering from dizziness, fainting spells, headache and vomiting. They have tested negative for COVID-19.

BJP MP GVL Narasimha Rao, who is from the state, said on Twitter that he had spoken with government medical experts and that the "most likely cause is poisonous organochlorine substances".

"It is one of the possibilities," said Geeta Prasadini, a public health director in the state, adding they were awaiting test reports to ascertain the cause.

She said no new serious cases have come to light in the past 24 hours. A 45-year-old man died over the weekend.

Organochlorines are banned or restricted in many countries after research linked them to cancer and other potential health risks. However, some of the pollutants remain in the environment for years and build up in animal and human body fat.

It was not immediately clear how extensively the chemicals are used in India, though it is found in DDT applied for mosquito control.

Currently, 157 patients are receiving treatment while 168 others have been discharged. Of all the affected persons, 307 hail from Eluru town, 30 from Eluru's rural areas and three from Denduluru.

Authorities are awaiting culture reports of some cerebral fluid samples taken from affected persons while 10 milk samples have been sent to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) near Tarnaka in Hyderabad for testing.

The ministry of health has formed a three-member team to investigate the sudden illness of people in and around Eluru. The team, comprising Dr. Jamshed Nayar, Associate Professor (Emergency Medicine), AIIMS, New Delhi, Dr. Avinash Deoshtawar, Virologist, NIV, Pune and Dr. Sanket Kulkarni, Dy. Director, PH, NCDC, will reach Eluru on Tuesday morning and submit a report by the evening.

As the unidentified disease swept across several pockets in Eluru amid the coronavirus pandemic, the district administration carried out a household survey to know its prevalence. As many as 62 village and ward secretariats conducted the health surveys in 57,863 households.

Similarly, 56 doctors, three microbiologists, 136 nurses, 117 FNOs and 99 MNOs have been deployed on duty. In the past 48 hours, 62 medical camps were held, and 20 ambulances and 445 beds made available for treatment at Eluru government hospital and four other institutes.

Fifty beds were also allotted in Vijayawada government general hospital, along with some medical personnel, for the treatment of the affected persons.

Exposure to organochlorine pesticides over a short period may produce convulsions, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tremors, confusion, muscle weakness, slurred speech, salivation and sweating, US health authorities say.

(With inputs from Reuters)

first published:December 08, 2020, 10:27 IST