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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 18:59 GMT
Indians seeking vision harm sight
By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC News

Sunset in India
Staring at the sun when it is high in the sky can be very dangerous
At least 50 people in southern India have damaged their sight by staring at the sun in the hope of seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary, doctors say.

Hundreds of Indian Catholics reportedly stared at the sun last month following rumours that a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary could be seen in the sky.

Soon afterwards, local eye hospitals started receiving patients with burn damage to their retinas.

The incident happened in the district of Kottayam in Kerala state.

"We were receiving patients until a few days ago who were complaining of defective vision," Dr Annamma James, an eye specialist at Kottayam's St Joseph's hospital, told the BBC.

We are studying the problem as there are not many reported studies on this phenomenon
Dr Annamma James

"Their retinas were damaged due to direct exposure to the sun," she said.

Her hospital treated most of the patients.

Unaware of the dangers, many others continued to look at the sun for three or four days.

Dr Annamma said this was probably the first time in India that so many people have damaged their vision by gazing at the sun.

Unusual problem

Following reports from the doctors, the local government has now launched an advertising campaign warning of the dangers of looking directly at the sun.

Even the churches in the vicinity have been drafted into the campaign. The local parishes have disowned the miracle.

Doctors say while some people in India tend to watch solar eclipses, it is uncommon for people in such large numbers to have their vision affected by looking directly at the sun.

"We are still giving treatment to those affected. But some may not recover full vision," Dr Annamma said.

"We are studying the problem as there are not many reported studies on this phenomenon."

Rumours of miracles are common in India. Recently, another person in the same region had claimed that statues of Mary in his house have been "crying" honey and "bleeding" perfumes.

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