Ugandan Children Suffer Mysterious Nodding Syndrome

An unknown illness devastating thousands of children has stumped epidemiologists around the world.

Posted: 06/03/2013 01:58 PM EDT

“It starts with the nodding — otherwise normal children begin to nod their heads, pathologically,” wrote NPR reporter Matthew Kielty. “Then come the seizures. The children stop growing and stop talking.”

Also known as nodding syndrome, the debilitating disease has affected more than 3,000 children. Researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and others have attempted to uncover the origins of this deadly illness. Ultimately, the disease wrecks the children, physically and mentally, wrote Kielty.

The Ugandan Ministry of Health has reportedly spent $1.4 million on battling nodding syndrome in 2012. The only effective treatment known is an anti-convulsant medication recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Some of the affected children have shown significant improvement since taking the medication, Robert Downing, a microbiologist at the CDC's campus in Entebbe, Uganda, told NPR. Yet, a lack of outside funding and resources for combating nodding syndrome has meant little to no rehabilitation, education or nutrition services for the affected communities.

"They do need help," said Downing. "There's so little there."

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(Photo: REUTERS/James Akena)

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