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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More