The mysterious illness in eluru

In an unprecedented situation in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, people started to fall sick standstill. The symptoms are headache, fits and nausea. They were rushed to the nearest hospital. By the next day, the count reached some 300+ and caused panic among state health officials. The CM himself visited the hospital to enquire the ground-level situation. According to the health department, 500 cases were recorded – 300 of them had been discharged and 19 were moved to other hospitals in the state for better treatment and 1 death reported. All the patients were tested negative for covid-19. Blood samples and other test reports were quite normal.

With no clues left for the reason behind mysterious illness made alarm to the regional All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to the World Health Organisation (WHO) expected to visit the city. For further analysis, their samples were sent to forensic labs and municipal water, milk samples from the region were sent to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology(CCMB) in Hyderabad. In a press release, the vice president requested the healthy ministry to extend all the support required and rushed the medical teams to the city.

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Some experts believed that the reason could be an organochlorine substance that triggered the illness. The substance organochlorine is used in pesticides and drugs. Organochlorine insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was first used during World War II to combat malaria, typhus and other diseases. However, the results awaited to confirm the assumptions. Meanwhile, a report from AIIMS found a high amount of toxic substances like lead(Pb), nickel(ni) in the samples collected.

Lead is a highly poisonous metal and can affect almost every organ in the body and the nervous system. It is a naturally occurring element found, due to human activity, in all parts of our environment. People can be exposed to lead through inhalation, ingestion and to a lesser extent, dermal contact. Because they absorb more lead than adults and because their brains and nervous systems are still developing, children under 6 and the developing fetus are most susceptible to lead exposure. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that lead in drinking water can be 20% or more of a person’s lead exposure.

Of the total reported cases, children and adults aged below 35 constitute more. The AIIMS report founds to be more relevant because the children are more susceptible to lead content and the same was found in the analysis. Lead is a very common component in everyday life but more toxic in nature. Lead is found in paints, batteries, pipelines and even in soil naturally. The most affluent where lead found is water. Drinking untreated water is the major reason for exposure. Municipal water that pumps through lengthy pipelines may have polluted water with lead. According to BIS, the lead content should not exceed 0.01 mg/l.

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Nickel (Ni) is a naturally-occurring element. Food is the dominant source of Ni exposure in the non-smoking, non-occupationally exposed population. The primary source of Ni in drinking-water is leaching from metal alloys in contact with drinking water. Toxicity data for water-soluble Ni salts are the most relevant to assessing potential health risks from Ni exposure in drinking-water. Human oral exposure to Ni is primarily associated with gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms after acute exposure and exposure through the skin or by inhalation may lead to Ni sensitization

Further, the AIIMS report has also found high levels of Ni from the samples. The exposing medium of Ni could also be the major reasons for the illness. Ni absorption via drinking-water may be at least 10 times more than that via food. The BIS requires 0.02 mg/l as acceptable limits of ni in drinking water. As per the AIIMS report, contents of toxic materials lead and nickel is mostly possible with the contamination of drinking water. There might be some release of toxic material into the drinking water that might escape the purifying system or post purification pollution could have occurred. Nonetheless, this could only be confirmed after the detailed analysis of all the reports.

It is estimated that waterborne diseases have an economic burden of approximately USD 600 million a year in India. Less than 50 per cent of the population in India has access to safely managed drinking water. Chemical contamination of water, mainly through fluoride and arsenic, is present in 1.96 million dwellings. However, it not suggested consuming direct raw water in urban areas. While in rural areas it is acceptable to some extent. Ensure if the water is pure, odour free and neutral taste.

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