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

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs