A month on, officials yet to crack Eluru enigma

Health officials are still scrambling to diagnose a mysterious illness that left one person dead and over 600 hospitalised in West Godavari district a month ago with a range of symptoms.

On December 5, 2020, 15 patients were admitted to the Government General Hospital (GGH) with epilepsy, fever and convulsions. The number of patients increased by the hour, and in just a week, over 600 patients were admitted to the GGH with similar symptoms.

Unconfirmed reports put the number of affected persons in Eluru, Denduluru, Madhavaram and other areas in West Godavari district at around 1,500. They took treatment at various hospitals and with local RMPs and clinics, sources said.

With the situation taking an alarming turn, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy visited the GGH, interacted with the patients and enquired about their health. He held a meeting with doctors, specialists and scientists from various State and Central organisations, who arrived in the town to investigate the illness.

Tension mounted in Kothapeta, Sanivarapu Peta, Vangagudem, J.P. Palem and other areas and neighbouring villages in West Godavari as hundreds of patients fell ill with the symptoms in just a few days. The Eluru Municipal Corporation and Public Health departments arranged medical camps in the district and conducted a sanitation drive.

Doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (New Delhi and Mangalagiri), National Institute of Nutrition (NIN, Hyderabad), National Institute of Virology (NIV, Pune), Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Indian Institute of Chemical Technogy (IICT), World Health Organisation (WHO), National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Public Health Department and other organisations visited the hospital and the affected colonies.

The scientists collected blood and urine samples from the patients as well as water and food samples and sent them for testing. Reports by AIIMS, NIN and other agencies confirmed that traces of lead and nickel were found in blood samples while pesticide content was found to be high in some food samples.

Committee formed

However, the researchers were unable to explain how the chemicals entered into humans. The State government constituted a 21-member High-Level Committee headed by the Chief Secretary, officials of Medical and Health, Irrigation and doctors of various institutes to study the reasons for the outbreak of the illness and suggest preventive measures.

During a teleconference with the Chief Minister, Health Minister Alla Kali Krishna Srinivas, Information and Public Health and District In-charge Minister Perni Venkataramaiah, Health Commissioner Katamneni Bhaskar, Collector Revu Mutyala Raju and Joint Collector Himanshu Shukla, and doctors of various research institutes said that a prolonged investigation has to be done to find out how the lead, nickel and other chemicals entered into the patients’ bodies.

“The disease affected hundreds of patients since December 5, and doctors of various institutes collected many samples. But, the senior doctors who visited the colonies and examined the patients did not give any reason for the outbreak of the disease,” said a patient Malathi.

“Teams from various organisations visited the affected areas in Eluru and the surrounding villages again and collected samples. We are waiting for the lab reports,” said an officer of the Medical and Health Department.

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