The mystery surrounding a two-and-half-month-old boy, who caught fire as many as four times since he was born, is expected to be unraveled when the test results are out on Monday.
Rahul, a native of Tindivanam, Tamil Nadu was admitted to Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital on Thursday for burns reportedly caused by a rare medical phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) wherein a person catches fire due to emission of inflammable substances through the body.
A series of tests, including sweat, urine and blood have been done to acertain the cause of the fire and find out if his body contains any inflammable substances. The doctors are also exploring all possibilities including abuse.
"The body burns spontaneously due to combustible gases emitting from the patient's body, without any external source of ignition," Dr R Narayana Babu, head of the paediatrics department, Kilpauk Medical College, told Deccan Chronical. "Clothes and other things nearby that are inflammable may also catch fire."
"An episode may or may not recur. It's like any other burn injury, with the likelihood of scars and secondary infections. Plastic surgery is also expected to be done. The relatives or parents have to always keep an eye on the baby. Matchsticks, crackers or anything that can catch fire should not be kept near him," he added.
Only about 200 cases of SHC have been reported in the last three centuries, the latest being in February this year when a 65-year-old man from Muldrow, Okla, was believed to have died of SHC. His body was found charred without any source of fire.
However, some experts rubbished the theory of SHC, saying that it is not possible.
"SHC is a hoax theory. A baby catching fire spontaneously is not possible," burns specialist at KMC Dr J Jagan Mohan told The Times of India. "Alcoholics have a very small percentage of alcohol secreted in their sweat but even that wouldn't generate a fire."
What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?
Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) is a rare medical condition in which a body catches fire without any external source believed to be caused by the emission of inflammable gas.
According to History website, the first account of the SHC dates back to 1641 and the phenomenon gained wider exposure in the 19th century after popular author Charles Dickens used it to kill off one of the characters in his novel "Bleak House."
People have been debating whether the human body can spontaneously burn without an external source. Scientists don't buy the SHC theory, arguing that the human body is composed of mostly water and there are remote chances of it catching fire by itself despite the presence of fat tissue and methane gas.
According to History website, "believers point to the fact that the human body has to reach a temperature of roughly 3,000 degrees in order to be reduced to ashes. Unless SHC were a genuine factor, it seems impossible that furniture would not burn as well. Proposed causes of the supposed phenomenon include bacteria, static electricity, obesity, stress and - most consistently - excessive consumption of alcohol, but none have been substantiated by science so far."
"One recent hypothesis comes from British biologist Brian J. Ford, who in August 2012 described his experiments with combustion in the magazine New Scientist. According to Ford, a buildup of acetone in the body (which can result from alcoholism, diabetes or a specific kind of diet) can lead to spontaneous combustion," it added.