Rainfall, brain infection linked in sub-Saharan Africa

January 4, 2013, Pennsylvania State University
Credit: Steven Schiff

(Medical Xpress)—The amount of rainfall affects the number of infant infections leading to hydrocephalus in Uganda, according to a team of researchers who are the first to demonstrate that these brain infections are linked to climate.

—literally "water on the brain"—is characterized by the build-up of the fluid that is normally within and surrounding the brain, leading to brain swelling. The swelling will cause or death if not treated. Even if treated, there is only a one-third chance of a child maintaining a normal life after post-infectious hydrocephalus develops, and that chance is dependent on whether the child has received the best treatment possible.

"The most common need for a child to require neurosurgery around the world is hydrocephalus," said Steven J. Schiff, the Brush Chair Professor of Engineering, director of the Penn State Center for and a team member.

In sub-Saharan Africa, upward of 100,000 cases of post-infectious hydrocephalus a year are estimated to occur. The majority of these cases occur after a newborn has suffered from , a that occurs within the first four weeks of life, the researchers reported in a recent issue of the : Pediatrics.

Benjamin C. Warf, associate professor of neurosurgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital, noticed that about three or four months after an infant in East Africa had an infection like neonatal sepsis, the child would often return to the clinic with a rapidly growing head—hydrocephalus. Schiff joined Warf to help figure out what caused this disease so frequently.

Schiff and colleagues tracked 696 hydrocephalus cases in Ugandan infants between the years 2000 and 2005. The researchers obtained localized for the same time frame through NOAA () using the African Rainfall Estimation Algorithm developed at the U.S. NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Uganda has two peak rainfall seasons, in spring and fall. By comparing the data from NOAA and the hydrocephalus cases, the researchers found that instances of the disorder rose significantly at four different times throughout the year—before and after the peak of each rainy season, when the amount of rainfall was at intermediate levels. In Uganda an intermediate rainfall is about 6 inches of rain per month.

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

"Hydrocephalus is the first major neurosurgical condition linked to climate," said Schiff, who is also professor of neurosurgery, engineering science and mechanics, and physics, and a faculty member of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. "This means that a substantial component of these cases are almost certainly driven from the environmental conditions, and that means they are potentially preventable if we understand the routes and mechanisms of infection better."

Explore further: Faulty development of immature brain cells causes hydrocephalus

Related Stories

Faulty development of immature brain cells causes hydrocephalus

November 19, 2012
Researchers at the University of Iowa have discovered a new cause of hydrocephalus, a devastating neurological disorder that affects between one and three of every 1,000 babies born. Working in mice, the researchers identified ...

Post-bleed hydrocephalus risk up in low-income preemies

October 18, 2012
(HealthDay)—Preterm neonates born to low-income parents have a disproportionately high risk of developing posthemorrhagic hydrocephalus (PHH) that requires multiple surgeries and extensive follow-up, according to research ...

Scientists find clue to cause of childhood hydrocephalus

September 7, 2011
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have found what may be a major cause of congenital hydrocephalus, one of the most common neurological disorders of childhood that produces mental debilitation and sometimes death ...

Recommended for you

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required

January 18, 2018
It is easier to spread the influenza virus (flu) than previously thought, according to a new University of Maryland-led study released today. People commonly believe that they can catch the flu by exposure to droplets from ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

Fresh approach to tuberculosis vaccine offers better protection

January 17, 2018
A unique platform that resulted in a promising HIV vaccine has also led to a new, highly effective vaccine against tuberculosis that is moving toward testing in humans.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.