City in one of richest districts of Andhra grapples with mystery illness

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December 12, 2020 3:50 PM

Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy has called for the collection of rice samples for testing to check if there was any contamination on account of pesticides.

Andhra Pradesh, Eluru, Eluru disease, mystery illness, AIIMS, Jaganmohan Reddy, Andhra Pradesh news, Andhra Pradesh latestAs of now, 602 people have been affected with symptoms that include seizures and giddiness. (AP file photo)

Eluru is a city in one of the richest districts of Andhra Pradesh with one of the highest per capita income levels in the state. It also gets water from Krishna and Godavari, the two major rivers of the state, making it, arguably the only such town in that belt to enjoy this. Yet, Eluru is grappling with a mystery illness that some experts feel, could well be because of water contamination. The exact cause is not yet certain and the state government is seeking expert help to investigate the matter and no conclusions have yet been reached on the causal factors.

As of now, 602 people have been affected with symptoms that include seizures and giddiness with one reported death though the direct link to this illness is still not established, a senior state government official said.

Those who hail from Eluru, which is close to 100 kilometres from Amaravati, one of the three state capitals and about 60 kilometres from Vijayawada, an important district and commercial hub of the state, often say it is not one of the good examples in proper underground drainage system leaving a lot of room to improve. Plus, this belt is known for aquaculture, which in the current situation could add one more layer of unclear linkages, if the source is found to be water contamination.

The developments here and knowing the real cause of illness is important for the city with around three lakh population. On Friday, state chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy reviewed the situation. Official sources say he conducted a video conference on the cases of illness in Eluru and ordered for in-depth examination and research in every aspect to find out the exact cause of the outbreak.

During a video conference with the authorities, doctors and experts from AIIMS, NIN, IICT,CCMB, NCDC and NIV, the Chief Minister called for testing of water samples “to recheck and confirm if the illness is due to contamination of water or not.” He said presence of organochlorine, and organophosphorus is detected in blood samples and therefore it was crucial that the real cause was found.

He said the state government has constituted a committee and directed to move forward coordinating with the various organizations, agencies, and experts conducting testing on the illness.

The Chief Minister has apparently said that special focus should be laid on preventing the stray usage of pesticides and usage of banned pesticides and immediate action should be taken if banned pesticides are sold. Officials were also directed to conduct tests on the pesticides being used currently. He has called for a focus on organic farming after confirming if the water is the cause for the current situation or not and added that the products of organic farming should be promoted. The Chief Minister also called for the collection of rice samples for testing to check if there was any contamination on account of pesticides.

An official note says, experts from AIIMS Delhi, Indian Institute of Chemical technology and Andhra Pradesh Municipal Department have said there is no evidence that drinking water is contaminated. The officials said only two people were fallen ill since the previous day and only 8 people in Vijayawada and 5 people in Eluru are being treated and all others are discharged from hospitals. The officials said samples are being taken from animals and sent to Bhopal for testing. Fish samples are also being collected for testing. Tests conducted to check air pollution were normal. Apparently meaning nothing was suspected on account of sir pollution.

What some find worrying is that nickel and lead were detected in blood samples and lead found in Urine samples. Since pesticides could also be a possible cause for this, samples were being tested to determine the presence of organochlorine and the results are awaited. Presence of organochlorine and organophosphorous is detected in serum samples.

The National institution of Nutrition (NIN) has formed a 9 member committee and their preliminary investigations revealed that residues of pesticides are the cause of the outbreak and research need to be done in long run, the official note said. The officials also said further analysis on the samples is still ongoing. Mercury traces in rice are high and more testing is needed, they said and added residues of pesticides were also found on the tomato and organophosphorus is found in the blood. They said it is yet to be identified on how they entered the human body.

According to official sources, expert committee of NEER, Hyderabad has said that samples of underground water are collected and are being tested and the results are awaited. We are also told that the officials of the state municipal department say more than 100 samples of drinking water were tested, however they showed no traces of heavy metals, organochlorines or organophosphorus.

The Institute of Preventive Medicine tested 19 water samples and found residues of pesticides in it. However, no traces of heavy metals were apparently found.  We may still need to wait for all the test results and for the full investigation to conclude.


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