March 25, 2012

Zombie-like disease spreading in Africa

CNN reported a strange disease currently spreading in Uganda that has WHO and CDC baffled:


Called nodding disease, the zombie-like disorder has spread to more than 3,000 children in Northern Uganda, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are scrambling to figure it out.
The disease causes the affected children to sit and nod—hence the name—but also has some much weirder, and creepier, effects. The disorder causes severe seizures, amnesiac behavior, stunted development and extreme pyromania. Affected children often start fires or wander off, and more than 200 deaths have been reported from incidences caused by the infected, i.e. fires.
One parent, Grace Lagat, said several villagers have taken to tying infected children up to keep them from wandering off. She says her son, Thomas, often bites and gnashes at the rope to try and get free.
"When I am going to the garden, I tie them with cloth," Lagat told CNN. "If I don't tie them I come back and find that they have disappeared."
The disease has been popping up in smaller outbreaks the past four years, though it is now bordering on a regional epidemic.
With everyone from WHO to the CDC on the case, scientists have still not figured out the cause, or a cure. But, they do know that more than 90 percent of cases occur in areas that are home to the parasitic Onchocerca Volvulus worm, which is carried by insects, and vitamin B6 deficiency could be a factor.
"At first we cast the net wide," CDC disease detection director Dr. Scott Dowell said. "We ruled out three dozen potential causes and we are working on a handful of probabilities."
Though experts don't expect a worldwide epidemic—the disorder doesn't appear to be contagious at this point—they are taking some precautions to ensure it (hopefully) doesn't spread beyond the affected regions.
"We know from past experience an unknown disease could end up having more global implications," Dr. Dowell said.

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