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Andhra mystery illness plagues nearly 600, but similar symptoms seen in cases last month too

West Godavari district official says between November last week and 4 December, there were about a total of 20 cases with similar symptoms in other hospitals, mostly private.

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Hyderabad: The mystery illness that’s continuing to plague Andhra Pradesh’s Eluru town has had 593 people hospitalised and one killed, as of Wednesday, with symptoms of seizures, vomiting, headaches etc. The district authorities, however, say there were “similar” cases reported in November last week too.

None of these cases were from the Government General Hospital, Eluru, which saw its first batch of cases being reported over last weekend, followed by hundreds of them getting admitted to the hospital late Saturday.

“Starting November last week to 4 December, there were about a total of 20 cases with similar symptoms in other hospitals, mostly private. Since each hospital had only one or two such patients, they were treated and sent back home. It was hard to see it as a pattern because these one or two cases were dismissed off as standalone cases,” West Godavari District Coordinator for Health Services Dr A.V.R. Mohan told ThePrint.

He said these cases were mostly in hospitals which come under the network of state government’s flagship health scheme Arogyasri. Under this scheme, the hospitals can claim reimbursement from the government for a certain range of services offered.

“Once we got the mass number of cases, we went back and checked with other hospitals — that’s when we found there were patients treated earlier for similar symptoms,” Mohan said.

However, Andhra Pradesh Health and Family Welfare Commissioner Bhaskar Katamneni said the earlier cases were “different, had previous history” and cannot be clubbed with the latest cases of mass convulsions in people.

“Yes, it came to our notice that there were a few such cases reported in November last week, we investigated those cases and found that those patients had a history of convulsions, they were treated for it before too. They cannot be linked to the latest cases,” Bhaskar told ThePrint.

Of the 593 admitted in hospitals, 515 were discharged up until Wednesday and 44 cases are active. About 33 cases, with comorbidities, were referred to Vijayawada GGH, of which seven were discharged.

About five patients were readmitted to the Eluru government hospital Wednesday after they complained of a second attack of seizures and vomiting. They had been discharged Monday after the treatment but had to be readmitted Wednesday, according to Mohan.


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Lead and nickel samples in blood

Even four days after the incident came to light, experts were unable to ascertain the exact reason for such symptoms in people.

A preliminary test report from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, which analysed about 40 blood and urine samples, said there were traces of heavy metals such as lead and nickel in most of the blood samples.

According to Health Commissioner Bhaskar, more than 30 samples had traces of these heavy metals, particularly lead. However, the source of the contamination and how these metals could have entered the body is still unknown.

“The only definite results are from our lab, which found higher concentrations of lead and nickel in the patients’ blood samples. The concentrations were much higher than normal, and we haven’t found traces of any pesticides in the patient samples. Water samples are on the way and haven’t reached us yet,” a doctor from AIIMS Delhi said on condition of anonymity.

Water samples are being sent to AIIMS Delhi for further examination, milk samples will also be examined.

Meanwhile, other institutes such as the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology are also analysing blood and water samples, particularly the latter to examine the presence of any pesticides in them. The preliminary water tests, done in state labs two days ago, did not detect anything unusual.

Speaking about presence of minor traces of pesticides in water samples, Bhaskar said hardly 14 ‘micrograms’ of pesticide presence (Organochlorine) was found in water, but further tests are being done to ascertain the presence of any other element.

“The clinical symptoms indicate that only lead cannot cause such extreme illness in people, there should be another underlying element, which in combination could have reacted like that,” he said.

The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) is examining about 100 samples of blood, vomit, urine — collected from 35 individuals, looking for a pathogen presence, if any.

“Our tests will take at least a week to show results. We are examining if there is any new parasite presence, we are looking at the DNA/RNA for the same. This sounds more like toxicity, there is no lateral spread,” CCMB Director Rakesh Mishra told ThePrint.

The National Institute of Nutrition is conducting tests on food samples and consumables. Vegetables from at least two different markets in Eluru have been collected, food items such as ‘dal’ being collected from 37 different households for the study.

The district administration has also said that the cases have “drastically reduced” and patients are showing signs of improvement after symptomatic treatment.

“We cannot rule out any option which is why we are conducting all possible tests. On Friday, all experts will reassemble for a discussion with the Chief Minister. By then, we are hoping for clarity,” Bhaskar said.

With inputs from Simrin Sirur.


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