Objectives: In India, especially in Rajasthan, people drink water which contains high level of nitrates and the possibility of finding concentrations of up to 500 mg of nitrate ions per litre of water is not unusual. Excessive use of nitrate fertilisers and herbicides results in accumulation of nitrate in plants and methemoglobinaemia in cattle as consequences of nitrate poisoning. The ingested nitrate is converted to nitrite in the digestive system and it is absorbed in blood, thus causing methemoglobinaemia. Methaemoglobinaemia is not restricted to infants alone, but it is prevalent in higher age groups also.
Methods: Therefore, an experimental study was conducted on 10 rabbits which were between three and a half months to four months of age, which had weights which ranged from 1.310 kg to 1.720 kg. Five groups A, B, C,D and E were formed, with two rabbits in each group. The control Group A was given water orally, which had 45 mg/litres of nitrate. Groups B to E (experimental groups) were administered water orally, which had concentrations of 100mg/litre, 200mg/litre, 400mg/litre and 500mg/litre of nitrate respectively, for 120 days. During experimental period, the differences in general behaviour of rabbits were noted. After this, rabbits were anaesthetised and sacrificed according to guidelines of ICMR and their livers were removed and processed for making paraffin sections,.Hematoxyllin and eosin staining was done for microscopic observations.
Results: During experimental period, the animals were found to be lethargic on 75th day. Quantity of intake of food and water was not altered in the rabbits which were undergoing experiments in different groups. Rabbits of all groups i.e. A to E showed a continuous increase in heart rate (up to 218/minute in Group E) and respiration rate (up to 84/minute in Group E) respectively. The microscopic study showed mild necrosis of hepatocytes, with infiltration of inflammatory cells in between hepatocytes. In higher groups, the liver showed bridging necrosis and portal triditis. Dilatations of central vein with eosinophilic degeneration were observed in Group E only.