Rare Diseases

A deadly illness struck kids for 22 years, and a fruit is to blame

lychee_fruit

 (Ursula Alter)

The Muzaffarpur area produces 70 percent of India's lychee fruit. It's also the site of a mysterious and deadly illness plaguing children in May and June for each of the last 22 years.

Researchers now say the two facts go hand in hand. In a Lancet study, they say children who filled up on lychee and skipped dinner ended up with dangerously low blood sugar and brain inflammation due to a toxin in the fruit, reports CNN.

While bodies typically metabolize fatty acids to produce glucose, the hypoglycin toxin in lychee "severely impaired" a child's ability to synthesize glucose, researchers say. As a result, children experienced fever, seizures and convulsions, and would slip in and out of consciousness.

About 40% of patients died, per the New York Times. "It was a very intense situation, because we witnessed children dying in front of our eyes every day," says a researcher.

While investigating 400 cases of the illness, however, researchers realized sick children were 10 times more likely to have eaten lychee than healthy children, six times more likely to have visited an orchard recently, and twice as likely to have skipped dinner before becoming ill, reports Live Science.

Then in 2014, lab tests revealed hypoglycin in lychee, and in unripe fruit in particular. Urine tests also showed high levels of hypoglycin in sick children.

Experts now stress that kids should limit lychee consumption and eat an evening meal, though they add "unidentified genetic differences might be needed to produce this illness." (This mystery disease affects just one family.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Deadly Brain Illness Blamed on Fruit