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Lancet. 1999 Feb 13;353(9152):536-40.

Epidemic of fatal encephalopathy in preschool children in Burkina Faso and consumption of unripe ackee (Blighia sapida) fruit.

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Centre Muraz/OCCGE, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.



On March 21, 1998, the Regional Health Authority of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, asked the Centre Muraz to investigate an unexplained outbreak of epidemic fatal encephalopathy (EFE). We aimed to identify the cause of this epidemic.


We identified cases retrospectively through review of health-service records and interviews of family members, village chiefs, and local healers. Active surveillance was started in administrative divisions within the study area in April, 1998, to identify further EFE cases. We did a case-control study of households to investigate the risk from various environmental and health factors. Blood and urine samples were collected if possible and urine dicarboxylic acid concentrations measured by gas chromatography.


29 cases of EFE were identified from January to May, 1998. Estimated age-specific attack rates (2-6 years) ranged from 31 to 847 per 100,000 population (p<0.001). The most common symptoms were hypotonia, vomiting, convulsions, and coma. All children died in 2-48 h. The only factor associated with EFE was the presence of ackee trees (Blighia sapida) within 100 m of households (odds ratio 5.1 [95% CI 1.8-14.7] p=0.001). Poisoning with unripe ackee fruits was suggested by urine concentrations of dicarboxylic acids four to 200 times higher in cases (n=2) than in controls (n=3).


Consumption of unripe ackee fruit probably caused this epidemic and may lead to a substantial number of unexplained deaths in preschool children in west Africa every year. Educational campaigns have the potential to prevent these deaths.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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