Rainfall, Brain Infection Linked in Sub-Saharan Africa

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The amount of rainfall affects the number of infant infections leading to hydrocephalus in Uganda, according to a team of researchers who are the first to demonstrate that these brain infections are linked to climate.

Hydrocephalus -- literally "water on the brain" -- is characterized by the build-up of the fluid that is normally within and surrounding the brain, leading to brain swelling. The swelling will cause brain damage or death if not treated. Even if treated, there is only a one-third chance of a child maintaining a normal life after post-infectious hydrocephalus develops, and that chance is dependent on whether the child has received the best treatment possible.

"The most common need for a child to require neurosurgery around the world is hydrocephalus," says Steven J. Schiff, the Brush Chair Professor of Engineering, director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering, and a team member.

In sub-Saharan Africa, upward of 100,000 cases of post-infectious hydrocephalus a year are estimated to occur. The majority of these cases occur after a newborn has suffered from neonatal sepsis, a blood infection that occurs within the first four weeks of life, the researchers reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics.

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