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  (Source: Capcom)
World Health Organization is on high alert about new Ugandan outbreak, cause is not fully known

Added commentary from Jason Oh, a Johns Hopkins Univ. public health studies student who is currently in Uganda studying the disease post-conflict transformation. Mr. Oh described some of the symptoms in more detail, and offered different perspective from the CNN reporters' experience.

CNN has also reworded their report to tone down the suggestion of violent behavior.

It's called the "nodding disease" and it's a baffling illness that has struck thousands of children in northern Uganda.  The illness brings on seizures, violent behavior in some (debated), personality changes, and a host of other unusual symptoms.

I. Mental Degradation: Child Victims Have no Cure, no Future

Grace Lagat, a northern Uganda native, is mother of two children -- Pauline Oto and Thomas -- both of whom are victims of the disease.  For their safety, when she leaves the house, she now ties them up, using fabric like handcuffs.  She recalls, "When I am going to the garden, I tie them with cloth. If I don't tie them I come back and find that they have disappeared."

Reportedly the children gnaw at their fabric restraints, like a rabid animals -- or "zombies" of popular fiction -- in an attempt  to escape.  (This is based on CNN's commentary.)

(Jason Oh points out that the restraints are intended to protect the chidlren from harm, and from starting fires.)

The effort to restrain the children is not unwarranted.  In one of the most bizarre symptoms of this tragic illness, children with the disease are reportedly setting fire to buildings in their communities.  Coupled with the aimless wandering this disease provokes in victims, this is a deadly combination.  More than 200 people have been killed in fires believed to be set by the zombified children.

(According to Jason Oh, there have been few reports of violent behavior.  It is unclear where our primary source CNN received this information, though a reader suggested that a CDC report indicated that 10 to 15 percent of children were found to exhibit increased aggression.  We were unable to locate this report.)

Nodding disease zombie child
The disease leaves child victims in an often-violent "zombiefied" state. [Image Source: CNN]

The disease is not new.  It popped up in the 1960s in Sudan.  From there it slowly spread to Libya and Tanzania.  

The Uganda infections, though, are a new outbreak -- a troubling sign.  The jump into a new region could be pure coincidence, or it could indicate the disease has become more virulent or found a new transmissions vector.

Africa map
Uganda is located in central Africa [Image Source: U of Tex., Modifications: Jason Mick]

Infected children typically have regular seizures, which are proceeded by a repetitive nodding of the head.  This characteristic symptom has given rise to the unofficial title for the malady.

II. World Medical Organizations Racing for a Cure

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have been tracking the spread of this frightening ailment.  Dr. Joaquin Saweka says the scene in Uganda is horrific, stating, "It was quite desperate, I can tell you.  Imagine being surrounded by 26 children and 12 of them showing signs of this. The attitude was to quickly find a solution to the problem."

Yet the WHO and CDC are not fully sure what is causing the illness, which cripples children and turns them into mindless, violence-prone zombies.  The best clue they have is that most of the cases occur in regions inhabited by "Black flies", which carry the parasitic worm Onchocerca Volvulus.  That worm is responsible for another dangerous disease dubbed "river blindness", the world's second leading cause of infectious blindness.

(Jason Oh states that CNN misunderstood this reference.  While it's true the cause of the disease is unknown and the literature papers on the topic indicate an overlap with part of the river blindness afflicted regions, but he feels this reference was only intended to "state the obvious", not hypothesize causation.)

Black Fly and worm
The illness may have something to do with Black flies (left, center) and their parasitic worm (right). [Image Source: WHO (left), Wikimedia Commons (center), Human Healths (right)]

However 7 percent of infected children live in regions not inhabited by the Black fly, so a link is speculative at best.

Children with the disease also frequently exhibit vitamin B6 deficiency, leading medical experts to believe that the disease may be nutrition related.  However, infections by microbes, parasites, fungi, or even fungi/microbes carried by a parasitic host, can all lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Dr. Scott Dowell, director of global disease detection and emergency response at CDC, says the race is on to determine the cause and a cure.  He states, "At first we cast the net wide. We ruled out three dozen potential causes and we are working on a handful of probabilities.  We know from past experience an unknown disease could end up having more global implications."

In the current cases children as old as 19 have been found to be stricken, with the majority of the worst symptoms being spread over the 3-11 age range.

One mystery surrounding the disease is the seizures themselves.  While typically seizures are either randomly occurring or follow some singular cue/pattern, the nodding disease seems to have multiple triggers, including eating new foods, changing weather, and other changes.

(Jason Oh says CNN reporters messed up and that it's familiar foods trigger the seizures, not unfamiliar ones like bars of chocolate.)

Seizure often leave the children soiled with urine and drooling.  Local nurses are afraid to touch the infected.  States local nurse Elupe Petua, "I feel, because I don't know what causes it, I don't even know how it transmits, when I touch them I feel that I can also get the infection because I don't know what causes it."

III. Medication is Ineffective

Anti-epileptic medication slows the onset of symptoms, but is unable to stop the progression of the disease.  The seizures eventually leave many children unable to walk, only able to drag their bodies along the ground as flies tried to attack them.

Nodding disease
The current treatment approach of anti-epileptics has done little to halt the illness.
[Image Souce: CNN]

(Jason Oh says that the diseases offers a tragic, slow mental degradation, taking years to develop.  Affected children, embarassed about the nodding and afraid of infecting classmates often drop out of school, while still mentally capable.  Eventually the seizures lead to the more severe symptoms mentioned in the intro -- loss of speech, partial paralysis, personality changes, and -- according to CNN -- violence.)

The government of Uganda has come under criticism for not being vocal enough in addressing the tragedy and demanding foreign aid/research expertise.  Local politicians have taken to transporting victims from affected villages by bus to city hospitals in order to force the issue into the eyes of the more affluent city-dwellers.

(Jason Oh adds some perspective writing, "Uganda had asked the CDC to investigate in 2009.  Most of the backlash against the government is because the Ministry of Health has been slow to use emergency funds that the Parliament made available.  They've established many local centers for Nodding Syndrome, but they are under-staffed and under-equipped.  The kids are being referred to and transported to Mulago Hospital (famous for being in The Last King of Scotland) so the top doctors at Makerere University and in Kampala can monitor them.")

The issue is yet another woe for a nation in which the impoverished majority was terrorized for years by warlord Jospeph Kony's militia, dubbed the "Lord's Resistance Army."

Mr. Kony is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court on multiple counts of violent war crimes, including rape and murder.  These offenses are punishable by death (life in prison), if he is ever brought to trial. (Jason Oh clarified that under the new Rome Statute of 2002, the ICC is not allowed to seek the death penalty, even in murder cases.)

IV. What if the "Nodding Disease" Found a Way to Reach the U.S.?

Dr. Saweka says that for all the hand-waving by the government about using better anti-epileptics and offering more funding, he appreciates and shares in the villagers frustration.  He states, "People complain that it looks like the lives in developing countries have less value than the lives in the western countries. When you know the root cause, you address the cure. Now you are just relieving the symptoms. We don't expect to cure anybody."

Ugandans, grief stricken, feel somewhat abandoned by the government and the wealthy developed "First World". [Image Source: CNN]

While the "First World" may not be focused on -- or even aware of -- the zombification that is leaving children in these African nations violent (debated), crippled shells of their former selves -- tied like dogs -- it is an issue that must be addressed.  After all, viruses, bacteria, parasites thanks to the wonders of evolution can mutate and adapt to new environments and new transmission vectors.

Thus this zombie virus  While reports of violence or strange behavior -- like biting -- are disputed, the disease is very serious.  It may seem like a foreign issue to regions like the U.S. and EU who are struggling with their own financial crisises.  But if the illness finds a way to broaden its spread, this outbreak could cripple children across the globe.

(A word of clarification... CNN has reworded their report slightly to tone down the suggestion of violent behavior.  The reports of fire starting stand, but in the new context it's possible these were just innocent accidents triggered by the childrens' loss of coordination.

Source: CNN

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More food, more deaths
By ReloadAO on 3/21/2012 8:28:18 AM , Rating: 3
I know, not a lot of people will like my opinion.

Africa is overpopulated. Land in most of the regions cannot produce enough food. And it will not change in any near future. Plus, most of the people there know just how to copulate and make children, human organization just giving them food. And when nature start to harmonize things, someone will come and say "there is new disease".

But, that's how nature works. More you try to beat it, it will return with something new and sometimes worse.

RE: More food, more deaths
By tng on 3/21/2012 7:12:09 PM , Rating: 2
not a lot of people will like my opinion.
Yep, got rated down, for a bunch of people who will preach Darwinism all day, some people here seem to lose any rational thought when Mother Nature puts Darwin's theory to work for real, just not something that happens over millions of years.

Like you said, Africans at the present is filled with allot of people who seem to can't take care of themselves and only know how to procreate. Then you have dozens of non-profit organizations that will beg for money in the developed world to feed them. Vicious circle...

RE: More food, more deaths
By Ringold on 3/23/2012 5:11:14 PM , Rating: 2
You guys are sad. Confronted with the problem over there, you guys default to "it's overpopulated, tons of humans simply need to die," instead of activating some brain cells, looking in to their problems, and seeing that if they tackled governance problems and adopted best-practices in farming and embarked on a range of market reforms, Africa could easily take care of itself. At various points in the 20th century, certain African and South-East Asian nations shared similar levels of income, development and natural resource endowments.

Africa largely declared independence then took cues from the Soviets in all the wrong areas, from economics to corruption. South-East Asia took an export-led growth model to help them get off the ground with cheap, educated labor, then followed it up with free market reforms to encourage domestic consumption (or is in the process of that, as China is for example). The disparity in outcomes is obvious. Both areas started with people living in huts. Now, one area as Galaxy SII's, the other area still has people living in huts.

Even compared to decades past, Africa, led by governments like Zimbabwe, have seen a collapse in crop yields, thanks to kicking out corporations and white owners.

Africa's population growth does need to slow, but it's a huge problem only to people on the left predisposed to a green or Malthusian idea that humans need to be cut down anyway, then look for excuses to validate their disproven world views.

RE: More food, more deaths
By tng on 3/28/2012 9:48:23 AM , Rating: 2
you guys default to "it's overpopulated, tons of humans simply need to die,"
Reading comprehension... We never said that.

instead of activating some brain cells, looking in to their problems, and seeing that if they tackled governance problems
Wow, really? Don't you think that much better people than you and I have did this for decades? It was an attitude like yours that drove out the Europeans who managed the place pretty well back in the early 20th Century. Let them choose their own leaders and destinies they said, so they have and look where they are.

adopted best-practices in farming and embarked on a range of market reforms, Africa could easily take care of itself.
So you really believe that? Again think that is a new idea?

I love that people like yourself get exactly what you want, an independent Africa, and then think that it was not implemented correctly. They asked for it and they got to choose, now live with it.

Finally, yes it is sad that this is happening there, no one wants to see that, but unless we go back to colonial rule where they are not left to their own decisions, that is what you will get.

Get used to how Darwin's theory works in the real world. The Western world has sent billions in private and government money for sustainable farming, water, education, etc... over the decades and it has not worked. Your ideas are not new and have already been tried many times, sorry that you don't like the results.

RE: More food, more deaths
By DarkUltra on 4/10/2012 1:11:55 PM , Rating: 2
South Africa is actually doing really well, and the foreign african troops in Somalia is really helping, too. They have the same potential as the rest of the world, they just need some help. Like that unknown couple that helped you when you were newborn :-)

RE: More food, more deaths
By DarkUltra on 4/10/2012 1:04:34 PM , Rating: 2
Your argument is usually the first people think of, but it will not improve anything.

The sooner African countries reach a level of development, the sooner will the population growth stabilize. Children is a way to ensure you have a better situation when you grow old, in more developed countries you get taken care of by other means. If you really want to help you could invest in infrastructure, healthcare, education and democratic improvement in developing countries, the sooner the better.

For instance, sponsor a child with

RE: More food, more deaths
By ursamajoran on 3/23/2012 7:56:04 PM , Rating: 2
We are talking about wanting to terraform Mars. Why couldn't we do it with the Sahara Desert? I've read it could be done for as little money as is spent by the planet every few days buying weapons.

The malaria disease rate has greatly expanded since the banning of DDT. Maybe this kind of population explosion creates an environment ripe for mutation. And the clearing of jungles/forests could dig up some nasty little microbe that has sat buried for thousands of years

In Africa having large families is akin to Americans having retirement funds. 6 or 7 kids, you might have one who is going to be successful. The more kids, the better the odds. Of course at best that could be tagged as wishful thinking unless your tribe has a higher than normal average height, and your village is visited often by NBA recruiters.

RE: More food, more deaths
By arztmat on 3/24/2012 9:00:40 AM , Rating: 2
It is obvious that none of you have been to Africa, because none of you quote from direct experience.

Implicit in your remarks is the supposition that Africa depends on food hand-outs. The population of Africa is over one billion people. Do one billion people depend on your largess for their daily bread?

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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