A strange affliction called "nodding syndrome," has taken doctors in Kitgum by surprise.
Victims of the disease are children who apparently tend to nod vigorously at the sight of food. The condition often progresses to severe seizures, mental retardation and death.
Mary Grace Lanyero, a senior psychiatric clinical officer at Kitgum trauma center, says the illness was discovered in Okidi camp in 2007. No remedy has been identified so far and many children continue to get affected.
Lanyero estimates that up to 300 people could be affected by the nodding syndrome. The areas most affected are Alune, and pajimo in Akwang Sub County, and Dure Lamola, Acutomer, Lulojo and Lamit in Amida Sub County.
Last week, blood samples were taken to Kampala to establish the cause of the disease. The results are yet to be released.
In the meantime, patients are being treated with anti convulsants like phenetoids, and valium to relax the muscles, because it presents like epilepsy.
Lanyero believes that the disease affects the feeding centre in the brain, coordination, and the centre that regulates the body temperature.
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Lanyero says some of the victims are at peak stage and are unable to either talk or walk.
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Lanyero says there is need for house to house mapping so the children who are abandoned in the community are traced.
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Dr. Atai Omoruto from Mulago hospital says there is need to appoint a focal point person at the district level, to help in managing and following up the patients to reduce more infections.
Peter Spencer, an American neurotoxicologist who has investigated the condition for WHO, think the disease may be related to a disorder seen in Uganda called Nakalanga syndrome, which also has symptoms of convulsions, stunted growth and sometimes nodding.
Spencer said one theory that cannot be ruled out, although it is not a leading suspicion, is the disease could have come from eating monkeys. Ebola can be spread to humans by chimpanzees. AIDS also made its way from primates to humans.
Spencer and other investigators believe nodding syndrome could be connected to river blindness, a disease transmitted by the black fly, which is particularly widespread in southern Sudan.