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Explained: What do we know about the mystery illness in Andhra’s Eluru?

Eluru 'mystery' illness: Over 70 per cent of Eluru town, in Andhra Pradesh's West Godavari district, has been affected by a mysterious illness. What can be the cause? What are the symptoms? Here's what we know so far.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala , Edited by Explained Desk | Hyderabad |
Updated: December 15, 2020 2:57:07 pm
Eluru mystery illness, Eluru news, Eluru illness, Eluru disease, Indian ExpressYoung patients are seen in hospital beds at an Eluru hospitalon December 9, 2020. (ANI/Reuters TV/via Reuters)

Over 550 people in Eluru town of Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district have been suffering from convulsions, seizures, dizziness and nausea since last Saturday evening. The seizures last for 3 to 5 minutes followed usually by vomiting or loss of consciousness. Doctors at the Eluru Government Hospital, where most victims are being treated, say the patients are fine within one or two hours and are discharged. People of all age groups, men, women and even small children are among the victims.

While on Saturday night at least 90 people were brought to hospitals, the figures drastically rose on Sunday and Monday. Only since Tuesday evening has the number of victims come down.

On Wednesday, less than 20 persons were brought to hospitals but most of them did not suffer convulsions or seizures. The initial panic has subsided by Thursday and less than 20 persons are undergoing treatment or are under observation.

Eluru illness: What has caused the sickness?

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi found traces of lead and nickel in blood samples of 25 victims out of the 45 samples sent by the state government. Public health experts and scientists from various agencies are awaiting detailed reports of analysis of blood and water samples but the primary suspicion is on water contamination by heavy metals. Scientists suspect that pesticide or insecticide has seeped into drinking water sources.

The district administration and Eluru Municipal Corporation officials are also investigating if excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures caused water contamination. Experts from National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad who collected water, blood, and food samples from Eluru say there are indications of lead contamination but can confirm this only after detailed test reports.

Eluru receives water through canals from both Godavari and Krishna rivers. The canals pass through agricultural fields where runoff laced with pesticides mixes with water in the canals. Many aspects of the mystery illness have baffled scientists. People who only use packaged drinking water have also fallen sick. There are many instances where only one or two persons in the family fell sick. Over 70 per cent of Eluru town is affected. Even areas outside of Eluru Municipal Corporation to which it does not supply drinking water are also affected.📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

eluru, eluru news, eluru mystery illness, eluru illness, eluru disease, andhra pradesh eluru, eluru illness reason, eluru latest news, eluru illness news, illness in eluru, mystery illness in Eluru, andhra pradesh news A patient is assisted by others to exit an ambulance at the district government hospital in Eluru, December 8, 2020. (AP Photo)

Who is involved in the investigation?

While AIIMS, New Delhi is testing blood, water and milk samples for heavy metals, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Hyderabad, is testing for pathogens. National Institute for Nutrition, Hyderabad, is testing samples of urine, blood, water, vegetables, fruits and other consumables for traces of heavy metals and pesticides. The Indian Institute of Chemical Technology is testing water and blood samples for traces of pesticides.

A two-member WHO team is in Eluru to monitor the situation. During the household survey, water samples taken locally were tested but no traces of lead or pesticides were found.

While lead and pesticides continue to be concentrated upon, investigations pertaining to other pathogens, probable sources also being carried out.

eluru, eluru news, eluru mystery illness, eluru illness, eluru disease, andhra pradesh eluru, eluru illness reason, eluru latest news, eluru illness news, illness in eluru, mystery illness in Eluru, andhra pradesh news Patients are seen at the district government hospital in Eluru on December 6, 2020. (AP Photo)

What action is the state government taking?

The West Godavari district administration has deployed 62 medical teams to monitor residents in the town and nearby areas affected by the mystery illness. The medical and relief teams have conducted two rounds of household surveys to check the condition of people, and even on Thursday, the teams were conducting checks on residents to make sure they are safe.

Teams of officials have spread out to check all sources of water to find out the source of suspected contamination. Officials were scouring garbage dumps where batteries may be leaking and contaminating groundwater. Teams are also tracing the two canals that bring water to Eluru to check for any source of contamination.


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