Seizures in Rural Zambia


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Summary: Purpose: To describe the period prevalence of epilepsy and febrile seizures in a bush hospital and discuss the medical sequelae and social impact of seizures in this population.

Methods: For 13 weeks, an evaluation of inpatients was made at Chikankata Hospital in rural Zambia. Inpatients identified as having seizures, “fits,”“spells,” or “fainting,” were evaluated by a medical records review, basic demographic data, a neurological history and physical examination, and a treatment history. A semistructured questionnaire was administered to evaluate the social impact of seizures and assess factors associated with delayed care seeking.

Results: Seizures composed 44% of all inpatient neurologic disease and resulted in 84 admissions. Epilepsy patients received treatment primarily from traditional healers; only 31% reported ever receiving antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). Among those who had received treatment, AEDs were frequently underdosed. Patients with epilepsy had significantly less education than their sex-matched siblings. Patients with untreated epilepsy for >2 years were more likely to have experienced serious burns or falls requiring hospitalization. Children with febrile seizures whose parents held supernatural beliefs regarding seizures were more likely to be treated with traditional medicines, had higher malarial parasite counts, and required longer hospitalizations than children with febrile seizures whose parents recognized the association between seizures and hyperthermia.

Conclusions: Epilepsy and febrile seizures are responsible for a significant burden of disease in rural Zambia. Serious medical complications often result from seizures, especially if untreated for >2 years. Social stigma decreases educational opportunities and misperceptions regarding seizures may result in delayed care for children with febrile seizures. Some evidence suggests that epilepsy is underreported, underrecognized, and undertreated in this population.