Pesticides in fruits kill 14 children in Dinajpur

The Daily Star June 28, 2012

Experts investigating why 14 children died in Dinajpur and Thakurgaon this month with almost identical symptoms believe that pesticides used in litchis could be the reason for their deaths.

The children, aged between two and 16, died between June 1 and June 20.

Death penalty for contaminating fruits

Experts at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) suspect that they died after eating litchis on which pesticides were used or after coming in contact with such litchis.

The IEDCR collected blood and urine samples from children with similar symptoms but in their primary tests they could not determine the reason for their deaths with certainty.

ASM Alamgir, an expert at IEDCR, told The Daily Star that the institute lacked the facilities for a thorough test. Samples have been sent to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA, for tests.

On June 18, a four-member team of IEDCR led by its director Prof Mahmudur Rahman went to Dinajpur and visited different areas to collect samples.

Mahmudur told The Daily Star that his team visited Dinajpur Medical College Hospital and the area from where the patients had gone to the hospital.

He said they had looked into the types of disease the children showed symptoms of, what food they had, and what pesticides the litchi farmers used and their possible links. After some tests, they found evidence to support their assumption that pesticides used in the litchi orchards had links with their symptoms.

He said they found signs in the samples that point towards poisoning and that was why samples were sent to the US for confirmation.

He said that initially the Nipah virus was suspected but tests ruled that out.

He said it would take some time before the results were obtained from Atlanta.

An expert at IEDCR said in Dhamrai on the outskirts of Dhaka in 2009, three people died of a mysterious disease. They had suspected that pesticides used in paddy fields and vegetable gardens in the area might have had links with their deaths. Samples were collected and sent abroad for tests.

Three to four months later the test reports came in and confirmed their assumption.

The experts said pesticides on fruits generally affect children more than grownups. They have carried on a campaign in the affected areas advising parents to refrain from giving litchis to children.

Moudud Hossain, civil surgeon of Dinajpur, quoting the authorities of Dinajpur Medical College Hospital, said the first report of such mysterious deaths of children came in on June 1.

Niva and Saila were admitted to Dinajpur Medical College Hospital on June 1 morning with mild fever and were shivering. They died in the evening.

“We collected information on other victims and found that the symptoms were the same,” he said.

Moudud said no such incidents were reported after June 20.