According to The New York Times, a three-month-old Indian baby lies at the heart of a medical conundrum, as practitioners attempt to explain a case of alleged spontaneous human combustion. The parents claim their child to have combusted on four separate occasions.
The baby boy was born in a small village in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and was the second child of two local farmers.
After a successful delivery, the deliriously proud parents’ celebrations were cut short. Nine days later, the mother of the baby, a Ms. Karnan, stepped out of her mother’s home to attend to her young daughter when she heard her baby scream in agony.
A neighbor, alerted by the shrill cries of the child, peered through into the hut to determine the source of the commotion. It was at this point that Ms. Karnan received the chilling words that no parent should ever have to hear, “…your baby is on fire.”
The child’s husband leapt into action, dousing the flame with a towel, before the couple headed to the hospital, in Villipuram.
As the months toppled, the same event transpired again and again and again. The baby had allegedly spontaneously combusted on four separate occasions. The parents’ woes didn’t end here, however, as they were forcefully ejected from their local village; residents were suspicious the baby might turn the entire region into smoke and ashes.
Ultimately, the downtrodden parents were offered treatment at a medical hospital in Kilpauk, following the ensuing media storm. Local doctors continue to deliberate over the very extraordinary possibility of human combustion.
Spontaneous human combustion is an incredibly rare disorder, where no obvious source of ignition is identified. A study, entitled Spontaneous human combustion: a sometimes incomprehensible phenomenon, describes how portions of the victim’s body become badly damaged, whereas the surrounding environment remains almost completely unaffected. In addition, the researchers discovered cases where victims were only partially damaged, whilst other cases would depict entire corpses burnt to ashes. Comparatively, another research article, So-called Spontaneous Human Combustion, established that many of those involved had been consuming alcohol, and were positioned near a source of heat.
A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain the mysterious disorder. In this incidence, doctors have theorized the source of combustion to be internal. Methane is manufactured by bacteria in the intestinal tract, called methanogens. These bacteria ferment the food, releasing combustible methane.
According to The Times of India, burns specialist Doctor Kalpesh Gajiwala ruminates over the plausible ignition mechanisms:
“Let us say if the child is covered with a silk cloth which can generate static electricity, the combustible gas and the electricity can cause fire.”
Aside from this theory, biologist Brian J. Ford conducted an investigation into the influence of acetone accumulation within the human body. Acetone may build up when an individual goes on a low carbohydrate diet, or consumes excessive quantities of alcohol over a prolonged period. He devised human replicas, produced from pork belly, which were covered in the solvent substance and ignited them. Ford found stark similarities between the remains observed during his experiments and corpses described following real-life examples of spontaneous human combustion.
It bares note, the “fire baby,” as many in the media have dubbed the youngster, did not have unusual levels of acetone in his bloodstream.
However, these are simply proposed hypotheses, unsubstantiated by scientific research. Generally, the scientific community remains incredibly sceptical over the likelihood of spontaneous human combustion. This level of cynicism has only increased amongst the media, following the finding that Ms. Karnan’s mother resides in a village that previously witnessed the destruction of many of its homes, due to flammable phosphorous material being used during construction.
So, it seems the medical mystery goes on, with healthcare experts and researchers unable to reach a consensus over the matter of spontaneous human combustion. Following the baby’s fourth time alight, the parents have been offered counseling, whilst their baby receives treatment for his burns.
By: James Fenner