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Mystery illness lands over 300 people in the hospital in southern India

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New Delhi — A "mystery" illness linked to one death put more than 300 people in the hospital over the weekend in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Dozens of residents in Eluru city started falling ill on Saturday night, with some losing consciousness.

India Mystery Illness
Patients and others are seen at the district government hospital in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh state, India, on December 6, 2020, as more than 300 people were admitted with an unidentified illness causing symptoms similar to epilepsy. AP

The patients reported symptoms similar to those associated with epilepsy, including headaches, nausea, vomiting and seizures. The number of patients rose sharply throughout Sunday. By Monday morning 315 people were in a local hospital. More than 150 patients were released after treatment, but that left about half of those who were admitted with the unexplained illness still in Eluru's hospital. 

A 45-year-old man who was brought in on Sunday morning with nausea and seizures died, but doctors said he had recovered from the epilepsy-like symptoms and died of other causes, according to the Indian news outlet, Scroll.

Doctors have not been able to establish the cause of the illness through blood tests, brain scans or cerebral spinal fluid tests. Results were still pending on some blood cultures and tests to look for the E. Coli bacteria. 

Experts from India's top health institutes, including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, National Institute of Nutrition, and Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, were expected in Eluru early this week to help investigate the illness. 

India Mystery Illness
A young patient is brought in a wheelchair to the district government hospital in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh state, India, December 6, 2020, as more than 300 people were hospitalized due to an unidentified illness. AP

City authorities collected samples of milk and drinking water from various points across Eluru for testing and were monitoring the situation around the clock from a "control room" established specifically for the purpose. Schools and colleges were closed on Monday and a massive door-to-door survey was launched to identify people who experienced similar symptoms.

It was not immediately clear whether the illness could be infectious, and if so, how it might be transmitted. 

Andhra Pradesh state Health Minister Alla Kali Krishna Srinivas said officials had been able to rule out water contamination or air pollution as the cause of what he described as "some mystery" illness. 

"Only lab analysis will reveal what it is," the minister told Indian news outlets. 

India is already grappling with a serious COVID-19 epidemic, with close to 10 million confirmed cases making it the world's second-highest caseload, behind the U.S. Andhra Pradesh state alone has reported more than 800,000 cases of the coronavirus disease, but so far local authorities have drawn no links between the virus and the new mystery illness. 

Srinivas all the patients brought in with the epilepsy-like symptoms had tested negative for COVID-19, according to CBS News' partner network BBC News

Authorities in Andhra Pradesh were urging the public not to panic, noting the seemingly high recovery rate from the unexplained illness.

The state's Chief Minister, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, visited some patients in the Eluru hospital on Monday.

The leader of the biggest political opposition party in the state, the Telegu Desam Party, demanded an "impartial, full-fledged inquiry" into the unexplained illness in a tweet.

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