Indian baby catches on fire – Spontaneous combustion or abuse? (UPDATE: Tests normal)

Astounding treatment of a probable child abuse case in India. Diagnosis: Spontaneous combustion.

Tamil Nadu’s baby Rahul sets on fire by himself : South, News – India Today.

Three-month-old Rahul, who is admitted in the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMCH) in Chennia with 10 degree burn injuries because of a condition called spontaneous human combustion (SHC), is stable, doctors said Saturday.

Doctors say that in SHC, burns are caused as the body catches fire because of the excretion of gases.

“The mother told us that the baby has suffered four episodes of such spontaneous fire and suffered burn injuries. The last episode was a month back. The baby was admitted to the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) (in Puducherry),” R. Jayachandran a professor in the department of pediatrics at KMC said.

Appalling. There is NO SUCH THING as spontaneous combustion, from gases or otherwise. There is zero mention in this piece of potential abuse by family (parents or sibling). This is a horrible story to read. By publicizing it, all we can do is hope that there are connections to the hospital to get this properly addressed and to make the public aware that people do not catch on fire without an external source.

The mother claims there was no source of ignition. Other media outlets are just as credulous, using the same unskeptical view.

spontaneous human combustion (SHC) – The Skeptic’s Dictionary –

UPDATE: (15-Aug-2013) Tests come back normal. Of course they do. There is no  condition where emitted gases cause people to burst into flames. At least FINALLY (it took days, it seems) there is some skepticism creeping into the reports and hints that this is child neglect or abuse. Unfortunately, there are still credulous mentions to SHC that give the mistaken impression that this is plausible.

Tip: Chew

UPDATE (17-Aug-2013) Highlighting the piece in the comments (from SciAv) below, phosphorus has been mentioned. This is a very intriguing idea since that DOES combust and burn.

Incidentally, the baby’s mother hails from Nedumozhiyanur which was in the news in 2004 after residents there complained their houses spontaneously burst into flames.

Investigations revealed phosphorus stuffed in wet cow dung had been placed in the huts. When the dung dried up, phosphorus, which has a low ignition point, lit up, setting the huts on fire. Enmity between two groups had led to one party resorting to such acts to harm their rivals. At the time, there were also reports of animals going up in flames and it was found phosphorus had been rubbed on the animals too, causing them to go up in flames.

  11 comments for “Indian baby catches on fire – Spontaneous combustion or abuse? (UPDATE: Tests normal)

  1. Peebs
    August 10, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    Unfortunately, too many suffer life threatening burns in India.

    It’s more surprising that this is a male victim.

  2. nmillerche
    August 10, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    Another recent source on this exhibits no trace of incredulity on the part of the reporter (Times of India), even boldly stating that the child “emitted some highly combustible gas through the pores of his skin, which made him catch fire. ‘We have not identified the gas yet,’ said Dr. Babu.

  3. Zetetic
    August 10, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    What especially gets me angry about this is the “four episodes” part. If it was just once I could see it being an accident or perhaps negligence, but this is clearly a case of ongoing abuse. Possibly a case of “Munchhausen by proxy”.

  4. August 12, 2013 at 11:09 PM

    Here’s a FOURTH article from a local news source, different wording and maybe slightly different info, but with the same “no trace of incredulity:”

  5. August 12, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    Finally, a news story that DOES question the “spontaneous human combustion” thing, even though I’ve heard this source called the “Daily Fail:”
    Is it a coincidence that all the unquestioning news sources are (I’m just assuming, not sure) in India? It is something in the culture that covers up things like this and/or takes unusual or bizarre claims at face value?

  6. nmillerche
    August 13, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    Thanks Ben. It’s a shame that the Daily Mail article seems to be the best example so far of any kind of skepticism (on sites not dedicated to critical thinking) applied toward this issue (and that’s only because they printed something the burn specialist had to say).

  7. SciAv
    August 17, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    Here is a update to the story. According to this source the home town has a history of “spontaneous” fires. This story at least brings up the idea of abuse.

  8. August 21, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    It’s baby Dhalsim!

  9. August 23, 2013 at 3:15 AM

    Further evaluation has been done, specifically on metabolic function, sweat and ketone levels, which were also found to be normal. Some bad news would be that the subject is expected to be discharged from hospital shortly, so it would seem that the authorities are still not raising adequate suspicion regarding the guardians of the subject.

    Conversely, I find it appalling as to how in the 21st century, the media is willing to accept spontaneous human combustion at face value, whilst offering amusingly impossible scenarios in regards to the ”mechanism” behind the phenomenon, and that allegedly qualified authorities think alike in this context.

  10. Bob Rupp-Kilgore
    August 23, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    So they have Munchausen by proxy in India too.

  11. Michael
    December 31, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    The credulity displayed here is not so surprising from a country with such entrenched beliefs in pseudoscience. In India over 100 million people depend solely on homeopathic medicine. If homeopathy seems reasonable to you spontaneous human combustion should slip by your critical thinking skills fairly easily.

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