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New Disease Baffles Scientists: Nodding Disease

Nodding disease or nodding syndrome is an obscure disease which recently made its appearance in Sudan. First discovered in the 1960s, the disease primarily affects children between 5 to 15 years of age. It is currently contained within Tanzania, Northern Uganda and South Sudan.

Nodding Disease

Red (2001) Yellow (2011 Prevalent) Green (2011 Sporadic)

Nodding disease gets its name from the characteristic pattern of involuntary nodding of the head. Neck movements such as nodding and turning the head from side to side are made possible by a long band of muscle called the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is supplied by the hypoglossal nerve. The symptoms of nodding disease include stunting, mental retardation, memory loss and absent mindedness.

Severe seizures can cause the child to collapse; burns and injuries are common because during the seizure the child may be unable to move away from cooking stoves, sharp knives etc.

Possible causes

The cause of the disease is not currently known, but it is believed to be connected to:

Black Fly (Onchocerca volvulus) emerging from the insect's antenna

Black Fly (Onchocerca volvulus) emerging from the insect’s antenna.

  1. Onchocerca volvulus, which was found present in 93.7% of the patients.
  2. Severe malnutrition, especially of Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).
  3. Autoimmune disease.
  4. Extreme temperatures. Very hot or very cold temperatures could trigger the nodding.
  5. Allergy to certain foods especially legumes.


  1.  All the children that are nodding have been in camps before.
  2. No cases have been found in town.
  3. All cases are malnourished.
  4. Trigger, yet to be known.(WHO, Uganda, 2012)

Prevalence and epidemiology

Most of the people suffering from the disease are found to have the Onchocerca volvulus in their bodies. Humans are the definitive hosts for the worm, and the black fly acts as the intermediate host. The black fly found in droves along river banks. But strangely enough, Nodding syndrome is more common in areas where there are no rivers or black flies. No cases have been found in the cities.

Some of the medications given to the patients include sodium valproate, multivitamins and milk. For further studies IgM and IgG will be used as the markers for the disease.

Some more studies in the following areas will help researchers understand the disease better and possibly devise a cure:

  1. Burden of disease (prevalence and incidence).
  2. A prospective cohort.
  3. Case studies.
  4. Autopsy study.
  5. Knowledge, attitude and beliefs of the locals.
  6. Toxicology study.
  7. Clinical study.
  8. Special needs.
  9. Psychological study.


World Health Organization, Uganda

 Edited and Illustrated By: Nisha Salim


Written By:

Kavuma Fauz

Secretary General

Federation of African Medical Students’ Associations

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About Richard Nelson

Freelance science writing all day and night. I'm an expert at writing, marketing, and publishing. Providing writing services nearly everyday, SEO rich articles about science and tech are my specialties. I also love to make money so I'm for hire as an independent communications expert and business consultant with specializations in project management, writing, science, and engineering. With a vast network of professionals in various fields backed by two degrees, 180 credits hours, 6 graduate courses and several awards and recommendations along the way, who could go wrong?


5 thoughts on “New Disease Baffles Scientists: Nodding Disease

  1. Nice info Kavuma, I remember I was also baffled by it when I learnt of it for the first time during my visit in Uganda. I hope we research to find the real cause of this illness.

    Posted by Chidinma Ohachenu | May 14, 2012, 6:39 pm
  2. Thanks for the comment Chidinma, Nodding syndrome is a great example that we much to learn in the medical field.

    Posted by Richard Nelson | May 14, 2012, 7:01 pm
  3. autoimmune diseases are very difficult to treat. the best way to treat them is by way of stem cells. *””*’

    Kind thanks“>

    Posted by Pedro Froman | July 31, 2012, 7:12 am


  1. Pingback: Nodding off? Might want to read | Free Power - May 22, 2012

  2. Pingback: Freelance Science Books « Another Science Writing Blog - June 1, 2012

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