Mystery disease investigators in India find excessive levels of lead and nickel in patients’ blood

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Indian health officials have found traces of nickel and lead in some of the blood samples taken from hundreds of patients hospitalized with a mysterious illness in a southern state, officials said.
The state government of Andhra Pradesh said in a statement Tuesday evening that investigations by experts from the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences were unable to determine the source of excess nickel and lead particles in the blood of patients.

The government is still awaiting the results of other tests, including toxicology reports and blood cultures, conducted by experts from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, the statement said.

Health officials and experts seemed baffled by how heavy metals entered the bloodstream of patients and that these metals caused the mysterious illness linked to the death of one person and the hospitalization of more than 585 others.

The disease was first detected on Saturday evening in Eluru, an ancient town famous for its hand-woven products.

People with the disease began to convulse without any warning, said Geeta Prasadini, a public health official.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy held a virtual meeting on Wednesday with officials which included experts from India’s top scientific institutes.

Reddy said 502 of the people who went to hospital were discharged after showing improvement.

No apparent common link

The patients presented symptoms ranging from nausea and anxiety to loss of consciousness.

What puzzles the experts is that there doesn’t seem to be a common connection between the hundreds of people who have fallen ill.

All of the patients tested negative for the coronavirus and other viral illnesses such as dengue, chikungunya and herpes.

On Monday, a man transports a young patient to the Eluru district government hospital. About 70 children are among those affected by the mysterious disease. (The Associated Press)

Those who have fallen ill are not related to each other and do not all live in the same region. They represent different age groups, including about 70 children, but very few are seniors.

Initially, officials suspected contaminated water. But the chief minister’s office confirmed that people who do not use the city’s water supply have also fallen ill, and the first tests of water samples did not reveal any harmful chemicals.

A 45-year-old man with the unique name of Sridhar went to hospital with symptoms resembling epilepsy and died on Sunday evening, doctors said. Prasadini said his autopsy did not shed light on the cause of death.

The state of Andhra Pradesh is among the most affected by the coronavirus, with more than 800,000 cases detected. The state’s healthcare system, like the rest of India, has been wracked by the virus.

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