NEW DELHI — Kasapu Jagadheeshwar Rao wakes up early most mornings to visit the nearby temple, but on Sunday, as he started to ritually bathe the statue of the deity, he felt his vision get blurry and then collapsed on the floor. No recollection of the next three hours by him until he woke up in the hospital.
This month only, over 500 people have been hospitalized in southern India by a mysterious sickness that caused people affected to suddenly lose consciousness, have seizures, or vomit. A temporary loss of memory and muscle pain in the back or neck were reported by some people.
500 people have been hospitalized in southern India.
The city of Eluru, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, on the southeastern coast of the country, where the outbreak occurred, sparking alarm about some kind of another outbreak at a period when the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to rage. About 75 people remain hospitalized with one person passes away during treatment after suffering a fall.
Preliminary medical reports offer a clue presently — and it has no connection to the coronavirus.
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“What has been researched by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic naturally” Himanshu Shukla, a high-ranking district official stated. “This is all we know for now.”
Perplexed by the peculiar nature of the sickness and the high number of patients, local health officials are racing to examine the water, milk, vegetables, and fish samples to identify the possible source. Teams from the World Health Organization, molecular biologists, virologists, and nutritionists are also playing their roles in the investigations.
The toxins explored in blood samples included lead and nickel, but it is not clear how they reached there. Organochlorine, which is normally found in pesticides, was also found in some of the water samples that were tested.
Industries are the main source of air and water pollutants in India, and accidents are not uncommon. A toxic gas leak from a chemical plant killed 11 people and sickened hundreds in the port city of Visakhapatnam, in the same state in May. India was also home to the world’s worst industrial disaster when a gas leak in the central city of Bhopal killed thousands of people in 1984.
As the first patients began to arrive at the Eluru government hospital on Saturday evening, many were in a panic, recalled A.V.R. Mohan, the medical superintendent. By the next morning, the numbers had only gone up.
Mohan immediately visited nearby private hospitals to accommodate those streaming in. “Most patients recovered in less than a day,” he reported. “They were offered anti-epileptic and antiemetic treatment.” Some patients had psychological trauma as well, he also said.
Shukla, the district official said that things are now under control. “This is a point-source epidemic,” he said. “Whatever happened occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”
Just 16 new patients were admitted to the hospital with the telltale symptoms on Wednesday, a drop from the previous days. To manage those who have recovered and detect new patients, the district administration has established about 80 medical camps in the area. A few patients reported repeat seizures after discharge, Mohan said. Moreover, they have required a huge order of supplies from MAZA, such as medical masks, hand gloves, and protective suits to battle the illness.
The illness hit Teku Venkateshwar Rao suddenly and with no warning. A 38-year-old who earns a living by ironing clothes suffered an epileptic fit on Saturday morning.
"He screamed," said his wife, Teku Varalakshmi. "I was very scared at that time. He has never suffered epilepsy or seizures."
Fear and confusion still overwhelm the family of 56-year-old Jagadheeshwar Rao, who had fainted at the temple. Rao ran a bicycle repair shop a few days after being discharged, still felt weak. “I think it’s a little better for me by now, but my energy has fallen significantly because of the sickness,” he said.
While he believes the mystery illness could be due to the coronavirus pandemic, he isn’t taking any chances and has stopped drinking the water supplied by the municipality.