EAST LANSING, Mich. 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 children, solidifying the link between malaria and neuropsychiatric disorders that affect hundreds of thousands of children.
The research led by Gretchen Birbeck, an associate professor of neurology and ophthalmology in Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine appears in the current edition of The Lancet Neurology.
Cerebral malaria is a severe form of malaria affecting the brain, occurring predominantly in children, with a mortality rate of 15-25 percent. 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, also director for the International Neurologic & Psychiatric Epidemiology Program. "Specifically, the modifiable risk factors for these disorders in children with cerebral malaria are acute seizures and extreme fevers."
Since most of the neurologic 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 said.
The study looked at several hundred children during a nearly five-year period in Blantyre, Malawi; it was the first-ever prospective study of cerebral malaria survivors that included a control group. The study was funded by the Na
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Michigan State University