NEW DELHI — Health experts suspect chemicals pesticides were to blame for the outbreak of a mysterious illness that killed one person and sent 600 to hospital in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
“The Agriculture Department should focus on withdrawing harmful pesticides from the market,” said Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, chief minister of the region.
Patients reported dizziness, headache and epilepsy-like symptoms. The authorities started doing door-to-door surveys to get a better understanding of the disease. Medical teams from district hospitals were rushed to the colonies, tending to patients in makeshift facilities arranged on the streets.
The state is located on the south-central coast of India and relies heavily on agriculture.
Andhra Pradesh resident Alok Kumar said the area could not afford another outbreak of illness “since we are not even done with the coronavirus yet.”
Other locals agreed.
“The government needs to ban the use of DDT in order to prevent the spread of such mysterious illness,” resident Naveen Reddy said.
Early reports from doctors and experts at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the National Centre for Disease Control have suggested pesticides might be to blame.
Even though no traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and nickel were found in blood samples and water samples, experts found Endosulfan and DDD in blood samples of those who were affected.
When DDT is exposed to soil it breaks up into two parts, DDE and DDD, which have similar properties and result when ingested in food or water in symptoms such as nausea, irritation of eyes, nose or throat. High doses might lead to tremors and convulsions.
More than 150 patients had been treated and discharged from the hospital and the rest were in stable condition. None of the patients tested positive for COVID-19.
Call centres were set up in order to monitor the situation, with contact information being provided in cases of emergency.
The recovery rate of the illness is good and officials have asked local residents not to panic.
“If there is one good thing that came out of COVID-19 it is that from now on any kind of virus or disease will be taken seriously and monitored closely by the government authorities,” Alok Kumar said.
World Health Organization representatives asked the government to focus on finding out how the residues from the pesticides were able to enter the human body.