At least eight children have died of encephalopathy spreading from litchi in the last 24 hours in Malda Medical College and Hospital.
The abundant production of litchi in Malda this year and its falling price have naturally led to huge consumption of the fruit. But now it has turned into a nightmare with the number of ailing children rising by the day. The health department, not sure about the prevention, was waiting for a medical team from Kolkata that was expected to reach on Saturday evening.
The district administration sent a team to affected villages on Saturday morning to talk to the villagers.
Among the children who died of the litchi syndrome are Tariqul, Jahir Sk, Siddiki, Ayesha Khatun, Khurshia Khatun, Sarfaraz and Rahul Pramanik. All of them belonged to villages of Kaliachak and are in the age group of 3 to 5 years. These villages have produced the most litchis this year.
Dr M A Rashid, vice-principal of Malda Medical College, confirmed that the victims got high fever and their brains were affected. With the sudden rise in temperature, they began to vomit and had convulsions. “We appeal to people that whenever you see such symptoms, bring the children to hospital immediately,” Rashid said.
At present, six children with the symptom are being treated at the medical college. They have been kept with other children in the same ward. While guardians are panicking, not knowing what to do, the administration has not been able to give them specific advice either.
“This kind of encephalopathy virus spreads from litchi. The disease originated in China and Vietnam years ago. Later it was seen at Muzaffarpur in Bihar,” said Rashid.
This is not the first time Malda has been affected with the disease. “In 2012, more than 100 children died of encephalopathy,” conceded a health official. It is feared that the number of victims who reached medical college is only a small section of the huge number affected.
Minister of food processing and horticulture, Krishnendu Choudhury, who was also the chairman of the Medical College Patients’ Welfare Committee, expressed his concern.
“I’ve heard that the virus spreads from litchi. We will do everything required to prevent an epidemic. A four-member team from the School of Tropical Medicine in Kolkata is on its way to Malda. After getting their report, we’ll take steps accordingly,” he said on Saturday.