‘Small head’ disease not stranger in Kenya – study

By Gatonye Gathura

The ‘small head’ disease, microcephaly that has panicked the world is not a stranger in Kenya though its link to mosquitoes is a puzzle.

Almost 16 years ago experts from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) had linked the tetanus bacteria to microcephaly.

The team which included J. L. Barlow, V. Mung’ala-Odera, Joseph Karisa Gona and Charles Newton, had studied 123 children admitted at Kilifi District Hospital with neonatal tetanus for a six year period.

The team from the KEMRI’s Newton Centre for Geographical Medicine Research consequently published their findings in the European Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health in April 2001.

Most of the patients had died either at the hospital or soon after leaving the facilities however the researchers were able to trace 23 of the survivors in the community.

When they measured the head circumference of the neonatal tetanus survivors they found most to have unusually smaller heads when compared to children who had not suffered from the disease.

Eight of the children who had suffered from neonatal tetanus had microcephaly compared with only one in the control group, the team had written.

“Our evidence suggests that many children who survive neonatal tetanus appear to have brain damage. This manifests as microcephaly, mild neurological abnormalities, developmental impairment and behavioural problems.”

The team says though their study was small there could be many children in Kenya and other African countries who suffer this condition.

They base this argument on surveys carried out in Kenya in the 1980s estimating between 8,000 and 12,000 infant deaths from neonatal tetanus annually.

However, a senior and widely published researcher at Kemri Dr Rosemary Sang recently confirmed that there has not been a mosquito related case of microcephaly in the country.

Rocket Science

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