News / Africa

Parasites, Trauma Causes of Epilepsy

Developing countries bear most of the world's epilepsy burden. (WHO)
Developing countries bear most of the world's epilepsy burden. (WHO)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
A new study said it’s possible to substantially reduce the number of epilepsy cases in Africa. The neurological disorder, which is characterized by seizures, is much more common in poor countries and rural areas.


The study is the largest ever done on epilepsy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 600,000 people were evaluated in five countries: Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana.

“Epilepsy is an abnormal discharge within the brain, such that the person who has it experiences abnormal convulsive movements as a result of this abnormal discharge. There’s a strong genetic component to it. In some cases a strong family history. There are genes which have been associated with it,” said Psychiatry Professor Charles Newton of the Welcome Trust and Oxford University, who led the research.

Epilepsy can cause not only physical suffering, but emotional pain as well.

“In many African communities the cause is attributed to ancestors, spiritual causes and even witchcraft. There’s a lot of stigma attached to epilepsy. The people who have epilepsy are less likely to go to school; are less likely to marry; are less likely to get jobs,” he said.

Newton and his team said the study is the “first to reveal the true extent of the problem and the impact of different risk factors.” And it’s not just genetics. One big risk factor is parasites. The study found that adults, who had been exposed to a parasitic disease, were up to three times more likely to develop epilepsy.

“The ones that we identified were onchocerciasis, which is a parasite associated with river blindness; Toxocara and taxoplasmosis – both of which are transmitted by cats; neurocysticercosis, which is transmitted by pigs. And we have some evidence to suggest that malaria may also be contributing to this,” he said.

The adults were actually exposed to parasitic diseases during childhood. However, it took many years for the parasites to damage the brain enough to trigger epilepsy.

As for children, the study cited different factors

“In the children under 18 years of age, we found that although the parasitic causes were there they weren’t as important as the abnormal pregnancies of their mothers – and particularly events that occurred around their birth. So it looks like that these children are suffering from birth trauma. So, for example, if the mother has a prolonged second-stage labor or if the child comes out and is not breathing and hasn’t got any oxygen going to the brain, these may be responsible or factors in the pathway for developing brain damage,” said Newton.

Newton said that many of these children are born at home where there is no emergency care available should complications arise.

The study said that parasitic disease control projects can help to greatly reduce the number of epilepsy cases. One example is the success of efforts to control river blindness. It recommended expanding river blindness prevention programs, as well as vaccinating animals against certain diseases. That could help prevent the spread of parasites to humans.

As for birth trauma, better pre-and-ante natal care in developing countries could greatly reduce the risk of epilepsy. Professor Newton added that these recommendations could be implemented at a reasonable cost.  About 70 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid