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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid