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Experts investigating mystery illness in India find lead, nickel in patients’ blood

A young patient is carried by a man at a hospital in Eluru, India
A young patient is carried by a man at a hospital in Eluru, India, where hundreds of people have been stricken by a mysterious illness.
(Associated Press)

Indian health officials have found traces of nickel and lead in a few blood samples taken from hundreds of patients who have been hospitalized by a mysterious illness in a southern state, officials said.

The Andhra Pradesh state government said in a statement Tuesday night that investigations by experts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have not been able to ascertain the source of excessive nickel and lead particulate matter in the patients’ blood.

Authorities are awaiting reports from other tests conducted by the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, including toxicology reports and blood cultures, the statement said.

Health officials and experts are still baffled by how the heavy metals got into the patients’ blood and whether they are indeed the cause of the mysterious illness that has left more than 585 people hospitalized and one person dead in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The illness was first detected Saturday evening in Eluru, an ancient city famous for its handwoven products.

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People with the illness started convulsing without any warning, said Geeta Prasadini, a state health official.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy held a virtual meeting Wednesday with officials who included experts from India’s top scientific institutes. Reddy said 502 people with the illness were discharged from the hospital after showing improvement.

The U.K. says two people with a ‘significant history’ of allergic reactions responded adversely to Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot but are ‘recovering well.’

The patients had suffered from symptoms such as nausea, anxiety and loss of consciousness.

What is confounding experts is that there doesn’t seem to be any common link among the hundreds of people who have fallen sick. All of the patients have tested negative for the coronavirus and other viral diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and herpes. They aren’t related to each other. They don’t all live in the same area. They’re from different age groups, including about 70 children. Very few are elderly, however.

Initially, contaminated water was suspected. But the Andhra Pradesh chief minister’s office confirmed that people who didn’t use the municipal water supply had also fallen ill and that initial tests of water samples didn’t reveal any harmful chemicals.

A 45-year-old man was hospitalized with symptoms resembling epilepsy and died Sunday evening, doctors said. Prasadini said his autopsy didn’t shed any light on the cause of death.


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