3-Month-Old Indian Infant Keeps Catching Fire; Doctors Say Baby Emits Combustible Gases Through Skin Pores

  on August 10 2013 8:59 AM

In a rare medical condition, a three-month old baby boy from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu keeps catching fire spontaneously. The bizarre incident has stunned local doctors, and spooked the villagers who blame paranormal forces for the phenomenon, local media report.

Rahul, second son of farmhands Karnan and Rajeshwari from Villupuram village, seemed as healthy and normal as any other baby at birth. But since then, the baby reportedly burst into flames at least four times, beginning when he was just nine days old.

In the latest incident, the baby suffered extensive burns and is being treated at Kilpauk Medical College hospital in Chennai, the state’s capital. According to Rahul's parents, each time the child caught fire spontaneously and there was no source of fire in the vicinity.

Doctors at KMC, where the baby was admitted Thursday, blame a rare medical condition called spontaneous human combustion, or SHC, for the infant’s predicament. Rahul catches fire repeatedly because his body emits combustible gas and fluids through skin pores, the doctors told the Times of India.

There is no cure for the condition, and the baby is currently being treated for extensive burn injuries at the hospital’s neonatal unit.

“We have specialists in skin, kidney, and burns departments monitoring the baby, besides a dedicated team of doctors monitoring his progress round the clock,” R. Narayana Babu, head of pediatrics at KMC, told the New Indian Express.

Doctors who are treating him said only caution can save him from catching fire again.

“The baby should be kept in a cool and aerated space and should always be kept away from inflammatory articles and never be exposed to the hot sun for long. Further, the infant should also be clothed with fireproof attire,” Narayana Babu said.

The bizarre phenomenon has spooked his neighbors in the remote village, and Rahul’s family is being ostracized by villagers, who believe the infant is possessed by the devil as he is bursting out flames.

According to doctors, this is the first such case reported in India, and only about 200 cases of SHC have been reported in past three centuries around the world.

“We researched online and found that over the past 300 years, 200 such cases were reported. The last reported case was of a 73-year-old man who died in his sleep, after going up in flames, in Wales in 1995,” said Narayana Babu, The Hindu reported.

The first report of SHC dates back to 1641, according to History.com. There has been considerable debate among doctors and scientists about the existence of such a phenomenon. Some scientists argue that it is impossible for the human body tissues to catch fire spontaneously, while some other scientists point to the documented evidence in such cases.

"Several theories of SHC do the rounds, but they are very vague and not backed by scientific proof,” Jayaraman, former head of the burn unit in KMC, told TOI.

Charles Dickens used SHC to kill one of his characters in his novel Bleak House, published in 1853, and the author backed it with evidence based on a research of 30 such cases. 

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