'Nodding disease' - Sudan and Uganda's incurable child disease with unknown cause

AlJazeeraEnglish: Hundreds of children in southern Sudan have died from a mysterious illness that they have called the "nodding disease". The mentally and physically disabling disease, which has no cure yet and affects only children, first emerged in Sudan in 1980s.

"We have no clue as what is causing this. It's like a detective novel and a murder mystery, because it's fatal," says a tropical disease specialist from UNICEF.

Bizarrely, the seizures occur when the sufferers start to eat, or when it is particularly cold. When a bowl of sorghum is placed in front of Susannah, the "nodding" begins almost immediately, and stop when she has finished eating.

Some villagers say the disease is a curse, others blame the country's long civil war and suspect that government forces have been dropping chemical weapons.

93% of those surveyed are infected with a parasitic worm which causes Onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness). However, the level of infection among children without "nodding" is 63%. The worm is carried by black flies which breed near fast-flowing rivers.

A team of CDC experts conducts a multifaceted investigation in northern Uganda. An Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer tells the story about Nodding Disease, a neurologic syndrome which is devastating to afflicted children.


'Nodding disease' hits Sudan. BBC, 2003.
African outbreak stumps experts: childhood nodding syndrome. Nature, 2011.
Mysterious nodding disease debilitates children - CNN, 2012.


  1. I came across this information on nodding disease by accident. So heartwrenching...THe world needs to know and the media and organizations like UNICEF need to inform so that people worldwide can take action in one way or another..

  2. I noticed that geneticists weren't mentioned in the list of specialists that have looked into this. The disease seems to be limited to areas with small populations that don't travel very far. This means very little genetic diversity within the populations, meaning that any mutation, including ones that lead to horrible to illnesses, will cluster together and manifest in many of the members of the population. If this is the case, there may be nothing they can do, and if wide spread, these villages may be doomed.