Rahul, a three-month-old baby from Villupuram, India, is believed to suffer from a rare condition known as Spontaneous Human Combustion, which causes his body to burn without any external source of ignition. Only 200 similar cases have been reported around the world in the last 300 years.
Just nine days after he was born, Rahul was found burning by his mother, Rajeswari, who scampered to douse the flames. “People thought I set him on fire deliberately,” she told reporters, but since then her baby to suffer three more similar accidents. Instead of supporting the family, the community ostracized them, and Rahul’s father says they have lost everything as a result. Luckily, the district collector called the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital after hearing their story, and the baby was admitted last Thursday, and is being treated for severe burn injuries. His parents said they visited other hospitals before, but no one could tell them what causes his body to burst into flames for no apparent reason. Dr. R. Narayana Babu, head of pediatrics at KMC says “It has been scientifically documented that concentrated combustion air excreted from the body could result in such episodes. In elderly persons, heavy drinking could lead to the body excreting alcohol-like substance which could get ignited.” Due to an unknown mechanism, these substances are escaping the body without breaking down to non-combustible forms.
Unfortunately, too little is known about Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) at this time, and doctors have no idea how to treat it. For now, Rahul is being treated with external application of ointment for his burns, and kept under observation with a bucket of water and fire extinguisher at his bedside in case of emergency. Doctors will also try to train Rahul’s parents to prevent exposing him to situations that could cause him to go up in flames. “We have to teach them to avoid sending the child out in the sun and specify the kinds of clothes he can wear when he grows up,” Dr. Babu said. Asked about the baby’s long-term survival chances, the doctors said only caution could save Rahul as there were reports of people who had died of this syndrome in their seventies and sixties.
In the last 300 years, only 200 cases of SHC have been reported. The last one dates from 1995, when a 73-year-old man from Wales died in his sleep after going up in flames.