News / Africa

    Climate, Brain Infection Linked in Uganda

    Hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, affects 100,000 children every year in Africa alone. (Credit: Schiff)
    Hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, affects 100,000 children every year in Africa alone. (Credit: Schiff)

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Joe DeCapua
    Scientists say they have found the first major neurological condition linked to climate. A Ugandan study shows the amount of rainfall can affect the number of infants who develop a deadly brain infection. It’s estimated 100-thousand infants in sub-Saharan Africa get the infection every year.


    It’s called Hydrocephalus -- a build-up of fluid that leads to a swelling of the brain and an enlarged head. Dr.  Steve Schiff, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at Penn State University, said that without treatment it can cause brain damage or death.


    “Hydrocephalus is literally a medical word that means water on the brain. It is the most common reason that a child would need to have neurological surgery,” he said.

    A small amount of fluid surrounding the brain is normal.

    “We produce about a cup of fluid a day and it bathes and cushions our brains. And every drop we make has to be taken out of the head by the body. And there are tiny, little fluid channels that allow that to happen,” he said.

    Unless, that is, something goes wrong.

    Schiff said, “One of the reasons children get in trouble with this is that they have an infection and the inflammation plugs up the small channels that the fluid needs to exit through. Or they might have some bleeding at the time of birth and that blood can also plug up these channels. And then sometimes children are born with some channels that are not formed correctly.”

    The blockages trigger an infection. Schiff says the most common treatment has been to insert a tube to drain fluid from the brain to the stomach. The body can then absorb and later eliminate it.  However, sometimes the tubes themselves can become blocked. If that happens, the child needs immediate medical care.

    To prevent that, scientists, led by Harvard neurosurgery associate professor Benjamin Warf, developed a new technique. Using a scope to peer inside the head, doctors can make a very small opening to allow the fluid to drain without the use of a plastic tube. Schiff says it was a major advancement.

    “This is very helpful in settings where a child might be very far removed to get to a hospital for any kind of emergency care,” he said.


    However, he says treating or preventing the infection through a surgical technique is just part of the solution.

    “We have two missions here,” he said, “First, we have to know what the organisms are. Because we have to make sure when we start treatment that that treatment is exactly the right antibiotic for the germs that are likely to be causing the infection. The second piece is, that long term, we need to know not only what the germs are, but we need to know how the infants got the organisms.”

    Here is where medical and climate research came together. Ugandan hospital records of hydrocephalus were compared with rainy season satellite data collected by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

    “In the hospital records we knew where the babies came from because their districts were all listed in the records. And when we looked at both the climate rainfall amounts for each month and the number of cases from each district for each month we saw very clearly that these babies were coming in larger numbers to the hospital when the rainfall was not too much, not too little, but just in the middle – just moist enough to affect the infants’ environment,” he said.

    That’s when conditions are just right for bacterial growth that can lead to hydrocephalus.

    Schiff said, “The complexities of the environment that infants are exposed to in Africa are unlike anything that we have had to deal with in the industrialized countries. And this is a major scientific and intellectual challenge that we have to do with our African colleagues in order to address what is indeed preventable.”

    Schiff added that bacteria that cause hydrocephalus in one region may not be the same as in another region of Africa or Asia. So research needs to be tailored geographically to possibly find ways to disrupt the environmental mechanisms that trigger bacterial growth.

    You May Like

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora