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Mysterious nodding syndrome spreading through Uganda

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Large areas of northern Uganda are experiencing an outbreak of nodding syndrome, a mysterious disease that causes young children and adolescents to nod violently when they eat food. The disease, which may be an unusual form of epilepsy, could be linked to the parasitic worm responsible for river blindness, a condition that affects some 18 million people, most of them in Africa.

The current outbreaks are concentrated in the districts of Kitgum, Pader and Gulu. In Pader alone, 66 children and teenagers have died. More than 1000 cases were diagnosed between August and mid-December.

Onchocerca volvulus, a nematode worm that causes river blindness, is known to infest all three affected districts. Nearly all the children with nodding syndrome are thought to live near permanent rivers, another hint of a connection with river blindness.

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