Nodding Syndrome Spreading Rapidly in Ugandan Youth

Nodding syndrome, a little known disease, appears to be spreading at a rapid pace among Ugandan children and teens. The disease is characterized most noticeably by the child nodding off when they begin to eat. Because of this, it hampers the child’s eating and they can suffer malnutrition.

New Scientist reports that the disease is an “unusual form of epilepsy” and in Uganda is mostly affecting the Kitgum, Pader and Gulu districts, but it has also reached Yumbe. There have been 1,000 cases diagnosed in these districts since August of this year, and New Scientist says that of the 18 million suffering the disease worldwide, most are in Africa. New Scientist also reports that it has killed 66 in Pader alone.

Earlier this year, officials in the northern districts of Uganda say that half the children have the disease, which they don’t consider recognized enough by the country as a significant problem:

New Scientist reports that the disease could be linked to the parasitic worm, Onchocerca volvulus, which causes river blindness:

The link is not clear cut, though. “We know that [Onchocerca volvulus] is involved in some way, but it is a little puzzling because [the worm] is fairly common in areas that do not have nodding disease,” says Scott Dowell, who researches paediatric infectious diseases and is lead investigator into nodding syndrome with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s a report from earlier this year explaining the Center for Disease Control’s involvement in researching the disease, which begins affecting children between the ages of 5 and 15:

As of right now, there is no known cure for nodding syndrome, but New Scientist reports that Uganda’s Ministry of Health has begun using anticonvulsants as a treatment.