- Illness has baffled experts from the World Health Organisation
By Suzannah Hills
UPDATED: 08:12 EST, 27 March 2012
A mystery disease is turning an increasing number of children in east Africa into zombies.
The condition, known by locals as the ‘nodding disease’, drastically alters children’s personalities by making them withdrawn and confused.
One of the first symptoms of the illness, affecting children in northern Uganda, Sudan and Tanzania, is that children appear to be falling asleep – their eyes close and head droops, even though they may not be tired.
The condition gets progressively worse and can cause affected children, generally aged between five and 15, to fall and injure themselves
Many die by losing consciousness and have horrific accidents, like falling into a cooking fire or drowning.
Other symptoms include losing cognitive ability and experiencing stunted growth.
Some suffer epilepsy-like seizures and struggle to eat – becoming shells of their former selves.
Others die of infections because they are weak or malnourished.
One mother in northern Uganda, Grace Lagat, where 3,000 children have the illness, told CNN how her two children have been affected by the nodding disease.
She said they suffer from seizures and after each attack are less like the children she remembers.
Speaking about her 13-year-old daughter Pauline, she told CNN: ‘Her personality has changed greatly from before.
‘She was normal when she was born. Now she just moves around and serves no purpose.’
The seizures are triggered in strange ways, say community members, such as when unfamiliar food is brought to the children or when the weather changes.
There are other bizarre symptoms with the children often wandering off by themselves and getting lost in the bush.
Other children have started fires, according to parents and medics in the field, while some appear confused and traumatized.
Lagat now has to tie up her children when she leaves the house to stop them from disappearing.
She told the TV station:’When I am going to the garden, I tie them with cloth.
‘If I don’t tie them I come back and find that they have disappeared.’
The condition first came to the attention of Ugandan authorities in 2009 and has confounded officials with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Saweka and the Ugandan government mobilized teams from WHO, CDC, and local health teams but there is still no known cause or cure for the disease.
Doctors are using drugs for controlling epilepsy with some limited success but they say it only slows the progression of symptoms.