We sought to evaluate the relationship between onchocerciasis prevalence and that of epilepsy using available data collected at community level.
We conducted a systematic review and meta-regression of available data.
Electronic and paper records on subject area ever produced up to February 2008.
We searched for population-based studies reporting on the prevalence of epilepsy in communities for which onchocerciasis prevalence was available or could be estimated. Two authors independently assessed eligibility and study quality and extracted data. The estimation of point prevalence of onchocerciasis was standardized across studies using appropriate correction factors. Variation in epilepsy prevalence was then analyzed as a function of onchocerciasis endemicity using random-effect logistic models.
Eight studies from west (Benin and Nigeria), central (Cameroon and Central African Republic) and east Africa (Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi) met the criteria for inclusion and analysis. Ninety-one communities with a total population of 79,270 individuals screened for epilepsy were included in the analysis. The prevalence of epilepsy ranged from 0 to 8.7% whereas that of onchocerciasis ranged from 5.2 to 100%. Variation in epilepsy prevalence was consistent with a logistic function of onchocerciasis prevalence, with epilepsy prevalence being increased, on average, by 0.4% for each 10% increase in onchocerciasis prevalence.
These results give further evidence that onchocerciasis is associated with epilepsy and that the disease burden of onchocerciasis might have to be re-estimated by taking into account this relationship.
Epilepsy is particularly common in tropical areas. One main reason is that many endemic infections have neurological consequences. In addition, the medical, social and demographic burden of epilepsy remains substantial in these countries where it is often seen as a contagious condition and where the aetiology is often undetermined. For several decades, field researchers had reported some overlapping between the geographical distributions of epilepsy and onchocerciasis, a parasitic disease caused by the filarial worm Onchocerca volvulus which afflicts some 40 million persons worldwide. Here, we conducted a statistical analysis of all the data available on the relationship between the two conditions to determine whether the proportion of people suffering from epilepsy in a community could be related to the frequency of onchocerciasis. The combined results of the eight studies carried out in west, central and east Africa indicate a close epidemiological association between the two diseases. Should a causative relationship be demonstrated, onchocerciasis, which is known as “river blindness” because of its most serious sequela and the distribution of its vectors, could thus also be called “river epilepsy”. More research is needed to determine the mechanisms explaining this association and to assess the burden of onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy.