9 January 2013

Uganda: Research Links Rain to Hydrocephalus Cases

A team of researchers have linked hydrocephalus - a brain infection that occurs in newborn babies in Uganda - to bacterial infections during the rainy seasons.

The findings that have been published in this month's issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, follow a six-year research done between 2000 and 2005.

The researchers from the Pennsylvania State University, CURE Children's Hospital of Uganda, and Children's Hospital Boston investigated how climate drives infections that lead to post-infectious hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus causes a build-up of fluid that is normally within and surrounding the brain, which leads to swelling and if untreated, can cause brain damage or death. Even with treatment, most affected children do not live normal lives.

Over 100,000 cases of post-infectious hydrocephalus occur every year in sub-Saharan Africa, after newborns have suffered from neonatal sepsis, a blood infection that occurs within the first four weeks of life, the researchers reported.

"The most common need for a child to require neurosurgery around the world is hydrocephalus," said co-author, Prof. Steven Schiff, the director of the Pennsylvania State Center for Neural Engineering.

Assoc. Prof. Benjamin Warf from Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital, noticed that about three or four months after an infant had an infection like neonatal sepsis, the child would often return to the clinic with a rapidly growing head.

During the research period, the researchers tracked 696 hydrocephalus cases in Ugandan infants between and obtained localized rainfall data.

Researchers found that cases of hydrocephalus rose significantly before and after the peak of each rainy season between April and October.

Schiff and colleagues previously noted that different bacteria appear associated with post-infectious hydrocephalus at different seasons of the year.

The researchers found that number of infant infections in Uganda that lead to hydrocephalus rise before and after the rainy seasons.

By comparing the rainfall data and hydrocephalus cases, the researchers found that instances of the disorder rose significantly at four different times before and after the peak of each rainy season, when the amount of rainfall was at intermediate levels.

A statement said that while the researchers have not yet characterized the full spectrum of bacteria causing hydrocephalus in so many infants, they note that environmental conditions affect conditions supporting bacterial growth, and that the amount of rain can quench bacterial infections.

The moisture level clearly affects the number of cases of hydrocephalus in Uganda.

According to the research, majority of infant hydrocephalus cases in East Africa appear to be post-infectious, related to preceding neonatal infections, and are preventable if the microbial origins and routes of infection can be better understood.

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