Study links lychee deaths in India to pesticides, not the fruit

Recurrent outbreaks of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) among children in India and Bangladesh could be down to exposure to agrochemicals used in lychee orchards rather than consumption of the fruit of the Asian lychee tree (Litchi chinensis), according to recent research. 

The Bangladesh-US team of scientists which carried out the study, published in July in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, based their findings on investigations of an outbreak of AES in May–June 2012 that killed 13 children aged 1–12 in Bangladesh’s Dinajpur district. 

“The outbreak was linked to lychee orchard exposures where agrochemicals were routinely used, but not to consumption of lychees.”

“Pesticides can be one of the contributing factors”, says Mohammed Saiful Islam, scientist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, and lead author of the study, which used a ‘mixed-methods’ approach to identify risk factors for AES and unsound practices around lychee cultivation in Dinajpur. 

Orchard caretakers told the team that different nutrients and fertilizers were sprayed on the trees before flowering. During and after the fruiting stage, several insecticides such as endosulfan, cypermethrin, alpha-cypermethrin and lambda-cyhalothrin were also used. 

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