Cerebral malaria linked to epilepsy, behavior disorders: Study

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

LONDON - Solidifying the link between malaria and neuropsychiatric disorders that affect hundreds of thousands of children, almost a third of cerebral malaria survivors developed epilepsy or other behavioral disorders in the most comprehensive study to date of the disease in African kids.

Gretchen Birbeck, an associate professor of neurology and ophthalmology in Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, led the research, which was conducted on African children.

Cerebral malaria is a severe form of malaria affecting the brain, occurring predominantly in children, with a mortality rate of 15-25 percent and it affects about one million children every year, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our findings show that children with cerebral malaria are at risk of developing several adverse neurological outcomes including epilepsy, disruptive behavior disorders and disabilities characterized by motor, sensory or language deficits,” said Birbeck.

“Specifically, the modifiable risk factors for these disorders in children with cerebral malaria are acute seizures and extreme fevers,” she added.

Since most of the neurological effects did not present themselves immediately, they were not evident at the time of the child’s discharge from the hospital after the initial malaria illness.

“But if the findings of our study are generalized, then about 135,000 African children younger than 5 years develop epilepsy due to cerebral malaria-induced brain injury each year, and cerebral malaria may be one of the more common causes of epilepsy in malaria-endemic regions,” she explained.

The study looked at several hundred children during a nearly five-year period in Blantyre, Malawi and Birbeck noted that the impact of the findings on African society is immeasurable.

“The long-term loss of human potential from these disorders is mind-boggling. Yes, these children are surviving the malaria, but their quality of life and what they contribute to society is severely hampered. There is a huge burden of post-malaria neurological disorders,” she said.

The study appears in the journal The Lancet Neurology. (ANI)

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