Pattern and associated factors of the neurolathyrism epidemic in Ethiopia


Prof. Fernand Lambein Laboratory of Physiological Chemistry, Jozef Kluyskensstraat 27, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. Fax: +32-9-233-8831; e-mail:


OBJECTIVES To describe the neurolathyrism epidemic in Ethiopia and to identify associated household factors.

METHODS We interviewed 589 randomly selected heads of household in Debre Sina district of Ethiopia, the area afflicted by the recent neurolathyrism epidemic. Disease information was obtained for 2987 family members.

RESULTS Neurolathyrism patients were detected in 56 (9.5%) households (prevalence rate 2.38%). The mean number of affected family members per household was 1.27 (SD 0.65, range 1–3). Most (77.5%) patients developed the disability during the epidemic (1995–1999). The median age at onset of paralysis was 11 years with a range of 41 (range 3–44). Younger people were more affected during the epidemic than during the non-epidemic period (P=0.01). The presence of a neurolathyrism patient in the family was associated with illiteracy [adjusted OR (95% CI)=2.23 (1.07–5.10)] of the head of household, with owning a grass pea farm [adjusted OR (95% CI)=2.01 (1.04–3.88)] and with the exclusive cooking of grass pea foods using handmade traditional clay pots [adjusted OR (95% CI=2.06 (1.08–3.90)].

CONCLUSION Males aged 10–14 years were most affected by neurolathyrism. Increased household risk was associated with illiteracy of the head of the household and exclusive cooking of grass pea foods with handmade traditional clay pots.