We conducted a house-to-house survey in the Mundri, Western Equatoria state of South Sudan to investigate the clinical characteristics, risk factors, access to treatment and perceptions about nodding syndrome (NS). In total, 224 NS cases with median age of seizure onset of 10 years were identified. Head nodding only was reported in 50 (22.3%) cases, and head nodding plus other types of seizures in 174 (77.7%) cases.
Wasting, stunted growth, delayed sexual development and speech and behavioral abnormalities were observed in 17 (23.6%), 16 (22.2%), 9 (17.3%), 14 (19.4%) and 4 (5.6%) cases, respectively. The consumption of rat meat, but not other bushmeat was associated with an increased risk of NS (OR 9.31, 95% CI 1.27–406.51). Children with NS were more likely to have taken ivermectin in the last 5 years (OR 2.40, 95% CI 1.33–4.43). NS cases were less likely to share a bedroom with other children (OR 0.06, 95% CI 0.02–0.16) or adults (OR 0.27, 95% CI 0.13–0.56).
In conclusion, rat meat consumption is an unlikely risk factor for NS, and ivermectin intake was more common among NS cases than controls. Importantly, we documented that children with NS are stigmatized because of the misconception that NS is transmitted through direct contact.