Background: Nodding syndrome (repetitive nodding and progressive generalized seizures) is assuming epidemic proportions in South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Objective: To describe clinical and epidemiological features of nodding syndrome in southern Sudan based on preliminary investigations conducted in 2001 and 2002.
Method: Household surveys, clinical, electrophysiological (EEG) assessments, informant interviews and case-control studies were conducted in the town of Lui and the village of Amadi in southern Sudan.
Results: Nodding syndrome is characterized by involuntary repetitive nodding of the head, progressing to generalized seizures; mental and physical deterioration. The EEGs were consistent with progressive epileptic encephalopathy. Prevalence of Nodding syndrome in Lui and Amadi was 2.3% and 6.7% respectively.
All case control studies showed a positive association between cases and Onchocerca volvulus. A history of measles was negatively associated with being a case: 2/13 of cases and 11/19 of controls had had measles: odds ratio 0.13 (95% CI 0.02, 0.76). Environmental assessment did not reveal any naturally occurring or manmade neurotoxic factors to explain Nodding Syndrome, although fungal contamination of food could not be ruled out.
Conclusion: Nodding Syndrome was strongly associated with Onchocerca volvulus. There was no evidence to suggest an environmental pollutant, chemical agent, or other toxic factor.