Schools stay away from row, doctors say it’s safe to consume. Enjoy! The deaths of nearly 108 children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, has left the country in a state of shock. In Bengaluru too, moved and shocked by the tragedy, parents of school-going children are keeping lychees out of their children’s lunch boxes. The fruit is in season now and has many fans for its mild juicy flavour and its bright red, berry-like colour. Several schools, too, have said that it’s up to parents to decide whether they want to give lychees to their children. Social media, as always, is responsible for the scare-mongering. And school Whatsapp groups are adding to the fear in parents and children. Rashmika Upadhaya, a parent of a Class 1 student says, “I used to pack lychees in my son’s lunch box. But after hearing of the Bihar tragedy, I have stopped sending lychees with his school lunch.” With lychees increasingly becoming available in Bengaluru, they’ve become a favourite with children. Meenakshi, another parent of a Class 4 student said, “Lychee milkshake and lychee ice creams are quite popular now. My daughter’s school cafeteria has them and all her friends are quite excited about these lychee drinks, because they’re still a novelty. A few years ago, lychees were not so common in Bengaluru.” Parents are unsure what to do after reading the ominous messages that are circulating on Whatsapp. Sudha Chandra, a techie and a worried parent says, “I stopped buying the fruit. The WhatsApp groups are full of messages talking of the dangers of eating lychees. We try to search on the internet to prove these rumours wrong, but the messages don’t stop coming. These unauthenticated posts are going out of hand. We really don’t know what to do. My son’s school has even sent us an advisory note saying that we need to decide whether or not to send lychees to school.” A CBSE school principal says, “We are not going to issue a notice about lychees. We have informed worried parents that this is their responsibility. “ Doctors’ opinion Speaking about the lychee scare, Dr Bhaskar Shenoy, Head of Pediatrics Department, Manipal Hospitals said, “The lychee is a good fruit. Fresh fruits do not cause any problem, but fruits which have fallen on the ground, stale or spoilt fruits do. Most of the children who died in Bihar were malnourished children from poor families. In my observation, the virus is targeting children who are undernourished. Due to this condition, children with very low glycogen storage become an easy target.” Dr Harshith, Consultant Internal Medicine, Apollo Hospital Jayanagar said an immediate dose of dextrose (glucose) was required to save the patient. “Toxins in the fruit’s seed, called Methylene Cyclopropyl Acetic acid (MCPA) and Methylene Cyclopropyl Glycine (MCPG) block a metabolic pathway called gluconeogenesis, which the body uses to maintain blood sugar levels,” he said. He also added, “The blood sugar level in these children is already low, as is the amount of reserve glycogen in their livers. In these circumstances, the body starts gluconeogenesis, only for it to be interrupted by the MCPA/MCPG. This leads to a condition called aminoacidemia that then damages their brains cells.” Dr Parimala V Thirumalesh, Sr. Consultant, Neonatology and Pediatrics, Aster CMI Hospital said, “Ripe lychees do not cause any problems. It is only the unripe lychees which have a particular chemical called MCPG (Methylene Cyclopropyl Glycine) that can cause the onset of encephalitis. Typically adults do not get affected by this and it is only children who are at a higher risk of developing such problems.” The doctors also said that consuming unripe lychees, especially in excess quantities, causes health issues only in malnourished children, or children who have been starving for more than 10 hours before eating the unripe lychee fruit. That is why the child’s blood sugar level is low as they have been through a prolonged starvation phase. “There is no cause for concern in children who are healthy and are eating nutritious meals three times a day,” said Dr Parimala. Encephalities warnings If a child has been affected by AES, he/she shows signs of drowsiness and becomes less active. The condition then rapidly progresses into acute encephalitis. If the child is brought to the hospital within four hours of these conditions setting in, then the prognosis is better.