A young patient is brought in a wheelchair to the district government hospital in Eluru. More than 500 have been hospitalized due to an unidentified illness in this town.(AP)
A young patient is brought in a wheelchair to the district government hospital in Eluru. More than 500 have been hospitalized due to an unidentified illness in this town.(AP)

Neurotoxins suspected to have triggered mysterious disease in AP’s Eluru

A preliminary study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Mangalagiri has found that the mysterious disease in Eluru was caused by heavy metals like lead and nickel.
By Srinivasa Rao Apparasu | Hindustan Times, Eluru
UPDATED ON DEC 09, 2020 12:22 AM IST

The mysterious disease that claimed one life and led to the hospitalisation of more than 500 people with complaints of epilepsy, convulsions, seizures and giddiness in Andhra Pradesh’s coastal town of Eluru was a case of “neuro-toxicity” caused by heavy metals like lead and nickel, a preliminary study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Mangalagiri has found.

The AIIMS authorities submitted a preliminary report to the state medical and health department on Monday night. The authorities have called for some more tests to corroborate the report.

“We have tentatively identified the primary cause of this strange phenomenon, but it is not yet clear what its source is and how and why it has happened. For instance, the chemicals were found in the bodies of the patients but not in either water or any other food substance,” state health commissioner Katamaneni Bhaskar, who has been monitoring the situation in Eluru, told Hindustan Times.

A three-member expert team from the Centre led by AIIMS emergency health care head Dr Jamshed Nair, National Institute of Virology expert Dr Avinash Devashtawar and NDCC deputy director Dr Sanketh Kulakarni is expected to reach Eluru in the evening to assess the situation.

“We are hoping to get a clear picture of the situation in a day or two as experts are probing all angles to find out the root cause of the disease,” Bhaskar said.

He clarified that the mysterious disease was neither a bacterial or viral infection nor a contagious disease. “It is a sudden onset of symptoms of convulsions and epilepsy which could be treated symptomatically,” he said.

Officials of sanitation wing, food safety division and drinking water supply department of Eluru municipality have been collecting samples from various localities like South Street, North Street, West Street, Arundhatipet and Ashok Nagar areas to find out whether they have any contamination.

There is panic in these localities which lack basic sanitation facilities – the narrow lanes are stinking with open drains and garbage dumps but people are hardly bothered about the conditions.

“Every house has a drinking water connection, but you can notice drinking water pipelines are passing through sewerage lines. There is no elected body for municipality and so, no official pays any attention to these problems,” said Chode Venkata Ratnam, former deputy mayor of Eluru municipal corporation.

Sai Ram (18) from South Street, who had undergone treatment in the government hospital for two days, said he did not know what happened to him all of a sudden. “I was playing with my friends in my backyard when I suddenly collapsed and developed fits. I never had this problem before,” he said.

A 20-year old woman Sai Laxmi, who was rushed to the government hospital on Tuesday morning from the same South Street, was also very healthy till she developed these strange symptoms. “This happened despite taking all precautions,” her mother Padma said.

Another victim – Rama Krishna (25), a physically challenged man, returned home after treatment, but the symptoms continue to surface now and then. “He had an epilepsy problem in the past and it has recurred now,” his mother C V L Appayamma said.

The teams of World Health Organisation and that of AIIMS, Mangalagiri, are also touring the affected areas to get firsthand information about the conditions of the patients.

As on Tuesday afternoon, as many as 505 cases have been reported from different parts of the town. “Of them, 332 were discharged after treatment,” hospital authorities said.

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