Mystery Disease Haunts Region

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Science  13 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6078, pp. 144-146
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6078.144

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In Mahenge, a town in a mountainous and isolated area of southern Tanzania, a great number of people suffer from epilepsy. Some of the most severe cases are found in people who were normal until they were around 4 or 5 years old, when they began to have seizures characterized by repeated downward movements of their heads. For many years, Western colleagues doubted or dismissed reports of the nodding seizures, first described in a 1964 paper. Now an apparent outbreak of a similar nodding syndrome in Uganda and southern South Sudan over the past few years has attracted many more researchers to look for possible causes. They are chasing several suspects, including a parasitic worm, but so far there's no proven culprit. Without a clear explanation of the condition's cause or effective treatments, defeating the disease will be no easy task.