Doctors treating three-month-old Rahul, however, still believe he may have rare condition

Over a dozen tests performed on the baby who spontaneously went up in flames have returned normal data, but doctors treating him still believe he could have a condition known as spontaneous human combustion (SHC).

Rahul, born on May 22 to Rajeswari and Karna, residents of a village in Villupuram, was brought to Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMC) with burn injuries on Thursday. According to his parents, the child had gone up in flames four times in the last couple of months.

On Monday, V. Jayaraman, former head of the plastic surgery department at the hospital, examined the baby. According to him, even if the test results for abnormality in metabolic activity were negative, this would not be enough to rule out the possibility of spontaneous combustion. The hospital will have to do a biopsy of the baby’s skin. “Since his injuries are still healing, we will have to wait for the biopsy,” he said.

Doctors are divided in their opinions about SHC, but said that forensic science acknowledges the possibility of such a condition. A senior forensic medicine expert at a city government hospital said doctors of this generation had not heard of SHC but that did not mean that it could be ruled out.

Though the human body is made up mostly of water and aside from fat tissue and methane gas there is not much that burns readily in it, science has it that “the production of abnormally concentrated gas or raised levels of blood alcohol might cause spontaneous ignition.”

Also “health and lifestyle factors such as smoking, not consuming adequate levels of water” could cause SHC, Dr. Jayaraman said.

He does not rule out a condition called ketosis, which occurs due to alcoholism or a low-carbohydrate diet. This produces highly flammable acetone, which could lead to apparently spontaneous combustion.

Dr. R. Narayana Babu, head of the paediatric department at KMC, was not available for comment.

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