Number of people struck down by mystery illness in India passes 500 as locals blame ‘mass hysteria’, feral pigs and pesticides
- Symptoms including blackouts, amnesia and vomiting erupted on Saturday
- Government has rushed medics to Eluru in Andhra Pradesh state to investigate
- But so far experts have been unable to pinpoint the cause for the chronic illness
- At least one 45-year-old man has died of the disease which is not linked to Covid
More than 500 people have been struck down a mystery illness in India which locals have blamed on ‘mass hysteria,’ feral pigs and pesticides.
The government rushed medics to Eluru in Andhra Pradesh state to investigate after patients presented with blackouts, amnesia, vomiting and chronic pain on Saturday.
Doctors say that most of those infected have recovered quickly but the death of at least one 45-year-old man has been put down to the disease.
‘Some people are saying that it is mass hysteria but it is not,’ said A.S. Ram, a senior doctor at Eluru government hospital.
He said most victims had suffered genuine symptoms, but ‘we are unable to diagnose what is causing it’.
A young patient is carried by a man at the district government hospital in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh state, India on Monday
A woman is helped out of an ambulance at the district government hospital in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, on Tuesday
It comes as India is battling the world’s second-highest number of coronavirus cases – soon expected to surpass 10 million.
Experts have proposed various theories about the mystery disease, including that it could have spread from chemical additives in pesticides, feral pigs or problems with garbage disposal.
An official report released on Monday said symptoms included ‘epilepsy for 3-5 minutes, forgetfulness, anxiety, vomiting, headache and back pain.’
The government has sent doctors from the National Institute of Virology, National Centre for Disease Control and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have been sent to investigate.
The team was collecting samples of edible oil, rice, blood and urine for analysis.
‘Most of the patients are coming in with minor head injuries or a black eye as they collapsed suddenly with the seizure,’ Ram said.
A young boy is wheeled into the hospital on a wheelchair in Eluru on Sunday
‘But within one or two hours most of them are fine.’
Police constable Kiran Kumar – who collapsed while on duty Monday – said he had been left ‘scared’ after being semi-conscious for more than two hours.
‘My colleagues told me, I shouted something and collapsed. I injured my right shoulder due to falling on the road.’
According to district officials, the illness is not spread person-to-person.
They released a report on Monday which said symptoms included ‘epilepsy for 3-5 minutes, forgetfulness, anxiety, vomiting, headache and back pain’.
What is confounding experts is that there doesn’t seem to be any common link among the hundreds of people who have fallen sick.
All of the patients have tested negative for COVID-19 and other viral diseases such as dengue, chikungunya or herpes. They aren’t related to each other. They don’t all live in the same area. They’re from different age groups, including about 70 children, but very few are elderly.
Initially, contaminated water was suspected. But the chief minister’s office confirmed that people who don’t use the municipal water supply have also fallen ill, and that initial tests of water samples didn’t reveal any harmful chemicals.
A 45-year-old man with the single name Sridhar was hospitalised with symptoms resembling epilepsy and died Sunday evening, doctors said.
Prasadini said his autopsy didn’t shed any light on the cause of death.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy (right) meeting with the patients going under treatment for an unknown disease in Eluru town on Monday
The hypothesis currently being tested is that people ate vegetables tainted with pesticides made of organic compounds containing phosphorus.
But this is an ‘assumption’ based on the fact that such pesticides are commonly used in the area and not on any evidence, Prasadini said.
She said that experts were testing to see if pesticides had contaminated fish ponds or spilled over to vegetables.
Opposition leader N. Chandrababu Naidu demanded on Twitter an ‘impartial, full-fledged inquiry into the incident.’
Andhra Pradesh state is among those worst hit by COVID-19, with over 800,000 detected cases.
The health system in the state, like the rest of India, has been frayed by the virus.
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