Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district officials are yet to reach a conclusion on the cause of Eluru’s mysterious illness but suspect that lead or organochlorine or a combination of both might have caused the outbreak.
“It is a case of neurotoxin which is either lead or organochlorine or it can be both,” Himanshu Shukla, Joint Collector, West Godavari district, told IANS.
Eluru, which is 58 km north-east of Vijayawada and the headquarters of West Godavari district, is a coastal paddy cultivation and aquaculture hub near the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India.
Shukla said seven to eight teams of experts from reputed institutions have come to this conclusion, even as they continue medical examinations and investigations to completely demystify the disease.
Heavy metals such as lead and nickel were found in the blood samples of the victims while organochlorine pesticide was found in water.
“Whatever was there, it is not there now, because the number of cases has reduced drastically,” Shukla added.
He called the outbreak a ‘point source epidemic’.
“What can be said now is that it was a point source epidemic. Like it was not everywhere, it has come from one particular thing which was an acute intoxication. It was not like it was happening for several months or days,” said Shukla.
Trying to figure out the route taken by the toxin into the body, officials have sent samples of vegetables, water, milk, rice, and other items from the affected areas for testing.
“Now what is the food source? I have already told you, we have taken a lot of samples of vegetables, water, milk, and rice. Results will come only by Thursday late evening. Only then can we pinpoint what was the cause,” Shukla added.
Symptoms of the mysterious illness include three to five minutes of epileptic fits without repetition, forgetfulness, anxiety, vomiting, headache and back pain.
“This is what has been finalized till now, either it is lead or organochlorine or both. We are working backward as I told you before,” said Shukla about the elimination method being followed by the experts to rule out various possibilities.
Experts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS, New Delhi); National Institute of Nutrition (Hyderabad); National Institute of Virology; National Centre for Disease Control; Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT, Hyderabad); Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and others are studying the mysterious disease.