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Repeated episodes of endosulfan poisoning.

INTRODUCTION: A number of families in a rural area of Jabalpur District (Madhya Pradesh), India, were affected by repeated episodes of convulsive illness over a period of three weeks. The aim of this investigation was to determine the cause of the illness.

METHODS: The investigation included a house-to-house survey, interviews of affected families, discussions with treating physicians, and examination of hospital records. Endosulfan poisoning was suspected as many villagers were using empty pesticide containers for food storage. To confirm this, our team collected blood and food samples, which were transported to the laboratory and analyzed with GC-ECD.

RESULTS: Thirty-six persons of all age groups had illness of varying severity over a period of three weeks. In the first week, due to superstitions and lack of treatment, three children died. In the second week, symptomatic treatment of affected persons in a district hospital led to recovery but recurrence of convulsive episodes occurred after the return home. In the third week, 10 people were again hospitalized in a teaching hospital. Investigations carried out in this hospital ruled out infective etiology but no facilities were available for chemical analysis. All persons responded to symptomatic treatment. The blood and food samples analyzed by our team showed presence of endosulfan, which was confirmed by GCMS. One of the food items (Laddu) prepared from wheat flour was found to contain 676 ppm of alpha-endosulfan.

CONCLUSIONS: Contamination of wheat grains or flour with endosulfan and its consumption over a period of time was the most likely cause of repeated episodes of convulsions, but the exact reason for this contamination could not be determined. This report highlights the unsafe disposal of pesticide containers by illiterate farm workers, superstitions leading to delay in treatment, and susceptibility of children to endosulfan.

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