'Mystery Illness' Kills 1 and Sickens Hundreds in Eluru, India

Illustration for article titled 'Mystery Illness' Kills 1 and Sickens Hundreds in Eluru, India
Screenshot: YouTube/ETV Andhra Pradesh (Fair Use)

One person is dead and at least 345 people have become sick with a “mystery illness” since Saturday in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh, according to new reports from the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times. Patients have shown a variety of symptoms, including vomiting, frothing at the mouth, seizures, giddiness, and a burning sensation in their eyes.

Advertisement

Indian health authorities initially believed the mass illness may have been caused by air pollution or contaminated drinking water, but experts who visited the town of Eluru, the apparent epicenter of the illness, say they’ve found no evidence that points to bad air or dirty water.

“We ruled out water contamination or air pollution as the cause after officials visited the areas where people fell sick,” Health Minister A. Kali Krishna Srinivas told the Indian Express. “Water samples were sent for testing and no contamination was found. Blood samples of the patients have been sent to labs. No viral infection has been detected.”

Children as young as four have been admitted to the hospital, with the vast majority of patients falling between the ages of 20 and 40, according to the Hindustan Times. It’s not immediately clear from first reports out of India if this bizarre illness is afflicting younger people for a particular reason or if the town of Eluru just happens to have a large percentage of younger people.

A 45-year-old man identified only as Sridhar died on Sunday evening from the mystery illness and an autopsy will reportedly be performed. While 345 people have been admitted to the hospital with symptoms, at least 180 have already been discharged, according to the Hindustan Times.

Every patient admitted to a government-run hospital in Vijayawada with the mystery illness has also tested negative for covid-19, the disease that has sickened 9.6 million Indians and killed over 140,000 in India since the pandemic began earlier this year. India has been the second-worst hit country in the world during the coronavirus pandemic, second only to the United States, which has millions more cases despite having a much smaller population. The U.S. has identified at least 14.7 million covid-19 cases and over 282,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

A team from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has been dispatched to the town of Eluru to conduct its own tests, and CT scans have reportedly been performed on some people from Eluru, though the results have not yet been made public.

Health Minister Srinivas called the mass sickness a “mystery illness” that will only be revealed when more lab results are returned, but a local politician doesn’t believe contaminated water should be ruled out so quickly and on Sunday demanded a full investigation into the cause of the frightening situation.

Advertisement

“With more than 250 people now affected, the situation in #Eluru is worsening. I demand an impartial, full-fledged inquiry into the incident. Floods, cyclone or healthcare, the YSRCP Govt has been caught napping in emergency situations,” opposition politician N Chandrababu Naidu tweeted on Sunday.

“Can there be a more unfortunate & bigger failure than this?” Naidu continued. “The Eluru water contamination incident calls for a declaration of Health Emergency in Andhra Pradesh. Enough.”

Advertisement

“The #Eluru incident is just the tip of an iceberg. The Govt’s negligence & the deterioration of healthcare services across AP stands exposed today. It’s a shame for any Govt if it can’t provide basic necessities like safe & clean drinking water to our people.”

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

DISCUSSION

An awful lot of basic information is missing from the release that Matt found so maybe the hospital could have waited a few hours before releasing news that only brings fear and not useful information.. Elevated while counts showing a bacterial infection, perhaps? It is a hospital, so they should be able to run a basic tox screen, with more detail to follow. Since the world is suffering from Covid, just saying that’s not Covid brings little comfort.