Tuesday, May 6, 2008


The vast majority of people don't know this, but neurology has been known to have its own pandemics to deal with . While the world is on the subject of H5N1, I'll post about some neurological diseases that have developed into epidemics.

-Encephalitis and encephalomyelitis

Encephalitis - this is a nasty disease and is an inflammation of the brain. There are two main encephalitides that have developed into epidemics: Japanese encephalitis and La Crosse (yes, Wisconsin has its very own encephalitis!) encephalitis. The main symptoms of encephalitides are sudden fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and back, impaired judgment, drowsiness, weak muscles, a clumsy and unsteady gait, and irritability (from NINDS Fact Sheet on meningitis and encephalitis). Epidemics occur in East and Southeast Asia, where 30,000-50,000 cases occur annually. Case fatality is anywhere from 0.3-60%, depending on the population and age.

Kuru - also known as the zombie disease, due to the fact that it mostly occurred among cannibalistic tribes of Papua New Guinea via eating a dead person's brain. This is a prion disease, and is similar to CJD in that it produces spongiform encephalopathy. Luckily, this disease was wiped out by 1980.

Meningitis - Also a nasty disease and is the inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes surrounding the brain (arachnoid, dura mater and pia mater; this is one of the two diseases here which every college student is or ought to be vaccinated for. It occurs sometimes in college dormitories, and has many of the same symptoms as encephalitis. Case fatality is low, but it occasionally kills in as little as 48 hours!

Polio - The FDR disease. Most people in the United States are vaccinated against this. Polio, oddly enough, was endemic to Europe for thousands of years until it hopped across the pond, and it preferentially infects motor neurons - which means that when you get it, you may stop breathing and be quite paralyzed. Iron lungs were used quite frequently for this; nowadays, biphasic cuirass ventilation replaces the iron lung in situations where patients cannot breathe (see also Ondine's curse for another interesting and sad condition where people cannot breathe, albeit not autonomically.)

Trypanosomiasis - What we call trypanosomiasis is called by laymen sleeping sickness and Chagas's disease. This disease makes people sleepy and is caused by a small parasite in the saliva of tsetse flies, in the case of sleeping sickness, and mosquitoes, in the case of Chagas's disease. Its symptoms are fever, headaches, and joint pains; in addition, Chagas's disease causes conjunctivitis.

Enjoy wondering how it might be to get one of these little suckers.

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1 comment:

Eugenie said...

You've also forgotten WEE/EEE/VEE and St. Louis Encephalitis...