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Handb Clin Neurol. 2014;121:1521-48. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-7020-4088-7.00102-4.

Tropical myelopathies.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Weill Cornell Medical College, Methodist Neurological Institute, Houston, TX, USA. Electronic address:


A large number of causal agents produce spinal cord lesions in the tropics. Most etiologies found in temperate regions also occur in the tropics including trauma, herniated discs, tumors, epidural abscess, and congenital malformations. However, infectious and nutritional disorders occur with higher prevalence in tropical regions. Among the most common infectious etiologies are tuberculous Pott's disease, brucellosis, and neuroborreliosis. Parasitic diseases such as schistosomiasis, neurocysticercosis, and eosinophilic meningitis are frequent causes of nontraumatic paraplegia. The retrovirus HTLV-1 is a cause of tropical spastic paraparesis. Nutritional causes of paraparesis include deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folate; endemic clusters of konzo and tropical ataxic myeloneuropathy are associated in Africa with malnutrition and excessive consumption of cyanide-containing bitter cassava. Other toxic etiologies of tropical paraplegia include lathyrism and fluorosis. Nutritional forms of myelopathy are associated often with optic and sensory neuropathy, hence the name tropical myeloneuropathies. Acute transverse myelopathy is seen in association with vaccination, infections, and fibrocartilaginous embolism of the nucleus pulposus. Multiple sclerosis and optic myelopathy occur in the tropics but with lesser prevalence than in temperate regions. The advent of modern imaging in the tropics, including computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, has allowed better diagnosis and treatment of these conditions that are a frequent cause of death and disability.

© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Cryptococcus; HIV; HTLV-1; HTLV-2; Lyme borreliosis; Nocardia; Pott’s disease; Taenia solium; Tuberculosis; acute transverse myelopathy; angiostrongyliasis; bacterial infections; brucellosis; cestodes; cysticercosis; echinococcosis; enteroviruses; eosinophilic meningitis; fibrocartilaginous embolism; folate; fungal infections; gnathostomiasis; herpes viruses; konzo; meningomyelitis; mycoplasma; nematode infections; neuroborreliosis; neurocysticercosis; neurosyphilis; paragonimiasis; parasitic infections; rabies; retroviral myelopathies; retrovirus; schistosomiasis; spinal epidural abscess; strongyloidiasis; syphilis; toxocariasis; trematodes; tropical ataxic myeloneuropathy; tropical spastic paraparesis; tuberculosis; virus; vitamin B(12)

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