Afghan children watch burning expired medical items and food on the outskirts of Jalalabad, March 4, 2013. An Indian baby has been virtually in flames four times since his birth in May 2013 due to a rare condition called Spontaneous Human Combustion (Photo: REUTERS / Parwiz).
Afghan children watch burning expired medical items and food on the outskirts of Jalalabad, March 4, 2013. An Indian baby has been virtually in flames four times since his birth in May 2013 due to a rare condition called Spontaneous Human Combustion (Photo: REUTERS / Parwiz).

A three-month-old Indian baby has been repeatedly catching fire because of a rare medical condition known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).

Named Rahul, the baby boy first caught fire when he was nine days old. His mother, Rajeshwari, rushed him to hospital in disbelief, after watching her son burst into flames without any source of combustion in the vicinity.

The baby has caught fire four times since birth and is receiving treatment for burn injuries at the Kilpauk Medical College (KMC) Hospital in the southern city of Chennai. He was admitted to the hospital with the most recent burn injuries on 8 August.

Doctors say Rahul's condition could be the result of combustible gases emitted from the skin's pores.

"The body burns spontaneously due to combustible gases emitting from the patient's body, without any external source of ignition. Clothes and other things nearby that are inflammable may also catch fire," Dr R Narayana Babu, head of the paediatrics department at KMC, explained.

There is no complete explanation for SHC but some 200 such cases have been reported over the last three centuries. There is not cure, except continuous treatment for the burns, according to Dr Jayaraman, the former head of the burns unit at KMC.

"20 years ago, we saw a similar case - of a 23-year-old man - but it went undocumented. Several theories of SHC do the rounds but they are vague and not backed by scientific proof. There is no special cure... it can be treated like a regular burn injury," he told The Times of India.

For now, doctors say they can only ensure the baby stays away from inflammable substances such as matchsticks, silks, kerosene oil, etc, and also stays in controlled temperatures.

"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," Dr Babu concluded.