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India’s Battle with Two Harmful Microbes

Written by: Rishitha Boddu


The past few months, nations worldwide have been occupied with the Covid-19 pandemic. After the United States, India is the second leading country in Covid-19 cases and deaths. Unfortunately, India has recently found themselves with yet another illness to worry about while still attending to the millions of coronavirus patients. Just about three weeks ago on December 5, the city of Eluru, located within the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, was hit by a mysterious new illness completely unrelated to the coronavirus outbreaks. Officials are unsure of the definitive cause, and this has caused an uproar of public panic after seeing how quickly the situation in Wuhan a year ago escalated into a global pandemic. Fortunately, officials and medical professionals in the city claim that the disease is nothing to be concerned about and the number of cases have already been decreasing. 



One death was confirmed on December 6 — a 45-year old man, although it is suspected that he passed away due to a heart attack unrelated to the disease. A woman who tested positive for Covid-19 has been the only other victim, so experts believe that this disease is not fatal given the two fatalities were caused by other conditions. However, hundreds more around the city have reported symptoms. Out of 550 patients hospitalized, 430 have already been discharged, promising a quick and high recovery rate.


Symptoms and Potential Causes

Reported symptoms have included an epileptic episode lasting 3-5 minutes, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, seizures, temporary memory loss for a couple minutes, anxiety, headaches, backaches, and giddiness. According to the state health minister, the new illness does not possess viral-like properties and spreads neither through air nor water. The biggest initial lead has been traces of excessive lead and nickel found in patient blood samples through an investigation conducted by an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). However, the same particulate matter has not shown up in food and liquid sources (including water and milk), and because many of the patients drink from various water sources, it is especially hard to track down the source of the illness. The absence of a common link between all the patients have scientists confounded. The patients seem to originate from various age groups, geographic locations, and haven’t tested positive for any other disease much less share one in common. 

Despite the lack of evidence, a handful of preliminary hypotheses have been proposed already. Krishna Srinivas, the Andhra Pradesh health minister stated that health experts suspect chlorine and bleach used in sanitation programs for Covid-19 prevention may be the cause of water contamination. Although this contradicts the laboratory evidence showing a lack of nickel and lead in waterways, it is a valid explanation for the phenomena. G. V. L. Narasimha Rao, a federal lawmaker, has stated that organochlorines might be the cause. Organochlorines are chlorinated compounds often used in pesticides, are toxic when contaminated food or water is consumed, and even pose environmental threats. This is another valid explanation for the illness as India has a history of several other cases involving pesticide poisoning.



Although the people of Andhra are worried about this disease on top of dealing with the coronavirus, the District Medical and Health Officer Dr. Sunanda has been assuring the public that there is no reason to worry as the recovery rate has been promising and the number of cases have been decreasing on the daily. Authorities have even set up a helpline at the Eluru municipal office, so residents can contact the phone numbers in emergencies. The situation at hand seems to be controlled, but if there was one lesson we all learned from the coronavirus pandemic, it is to stay prepared and maintain healthy habits.





References and Sources

Winter, L. (n.d.). Mystery Illness Cluster in India May Be Due to Neurotoxin. Retrieved December 26, 2020, from

Citroner, G. (2020, December 09). What We Know About the Illness That Has Sickened Hundreds in India. Retrieved December 26, 2020, from

Kidangoor, A. (2020, December 09). India Mysterious Illness: What We Know So Far. Retrieved December 26, 2020, from

Sud, V., Mitra, E., & Woodyatt, A. (2020, December 09). Patients hospitalized with mystery illness in India have nickel and lead in blood, officials say. Retrieved December 26, 2020, from

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