Mysterious Ugandan "Nodding Disease" and the Strange "Twitching Disease" in New York: A Possible Connection?

On March 6, the Washington Times reported on a mysterious disease which is killing children in the impoverished African nation of Uganda.  Known as "nodding disease", this condition is characterized by epilepsy-like symptoms which cause uncontrollable and constant nodding and drooping of the head.  The Washington Times reports that more than 1,000 children have been stricken with nodding disease since June; hundreds have died.  The cause, as well as the cure, is unknown.    

Earlier this year, another strange disease was documented in upstate New York.  Referred to as "twitching disease", this condition causes victims to twitch uncontrollably, and in most of the cases the sufferers are teenage girls.  Environmental activist Erin Brokovitch has even gotten involved, suggesting that the strange disorder may be the result of a toxic chemical spill which took place near the victims' school decades ago.  Last month, it was reported that medical professionals who examined these girls have concluded that "twitching disease" is nothing more than a form of mass hysteria. 

Similar unexplained disorders have been reported near Roanoke, Virginia in 2007, and North Carolina in 2002.  In all cases, the sufferers were teenagers.  Also, in all cases, doctors found that there was nothing medically wrong with any of them.  As a result, these teenagers have been written off by the medical community, assured that the mysterious twitching disease was nothing but a delusion.

Could these outbreaks, each one characterized by involuntary spasms, tics, and twitching, be nothing more than a hoax?  Or is there something very strange going on which science cannot yet explain?

While it's true that many of the sufferers of these disorders could be "faking" their symptoms in order to capitalize on the media attention, not every case can be so easily dismissed.  It's not as if teenagers from Uganda to New York are sending text messages to each other saying, "Let's start twitching today!  It's the cool thing to do!"  Even if 99 out of 100 cases of these unexplained diseases can be written off as "mass hysteria", those in the medical community will have failed to live up to their moral and professional obligations if they dismiss the one victim in the entire bunch who has a legitimate case. 

Although the causes of these strange ailments remain unknown, it should be pointed out that in all of these cases, natural gas drilling has taken place nearby.  The process known as fracking (hydraulic fracturing) has been under intense scrutiny in the past few years, yet so-called "experts" insist that this process, in which pressurized chemicals are pumped into the earth in order to fracture rocks, is completely safe.  This assurance must be taken with a grain of salt (or a healthy dose of skepticism), since the chemicals used in fracking include benzene, ethylene glycol, methanol, boric acid, and lead.  All of these substances are toxic, and many are neurotoxins which can produce the types of symptoms seen in both Uganda and the United States.

Even more disturbing is the fact that radioactive isotopes are used in fracking.  There are over 30 different radioactive isotopes used in fracking, and usage of these toxic materials have resulted in elevated radiation levels near drilling sites.  In spite of this fact, many of these radioactive isotopes are not being monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA's Hydraulic Fracturing Draft Study Plan excludes the monitoring of radioactive forms of xenon, rubidium, iridium, scandium, iodine, gold, and krypton-- all of which are used as tracers.

In 2010, TIME Magazine reported that Uganda, along with other East African countries, have an abundant amount of natural gas, and in the years following TIME's story ("Is East Africa the Next Frontier for Oil?") natural gas drilling has become one of the fastest-growing industries in East Africa.  The discovery of Uganda's vast store of natural gas was announced by Kalisa Kabagambe back in 2007 (Kabagambe is Uganda's permanent Secretary of Energy).  The impoverished war-torn nation's hunger for economic growth has led to the rapid construction of wells, even attracting the interest of American companies like Halliburton

The following statement appeared on the Uganda Gas and Oil Blog in July, 2011:

 Halliburton Co. (HAL) Chief Executive Dave Lesar said Monday that demand for oil field services in North America, such as hydraulic fracturing, continues to grow faster than companies like his can add equipment as producers rush to drill unconventional oil basins.

As you can see, in Africa and North America, the "gasholes" are drilling wells so fast that they can't even keep up with themselves.  If Halliburton can't send equipment and supplies to the drilling sites fast enough, then how agencies like the EPA effectively monitor these companies?  The answer, quite frankly, is that they cannot.

The Uganda Gas and Oil Blog concluded with:

Lesar also said that while Halliburton is spending heavily in sub-Saharan Africa to establish operations in countries including Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda, the efforts should “position us for many years of profitable operations going forward."

Should it be any surprise that the mysterious and deadly "drooping disease" was first documented in Tanzania?

In 2011, Halliburton reported a profit of $739 million.  Meanwhile, young people are dying mysteriously in the shadows of natural gas wells.  But that's half a world a way.  Here in America, young people aren't dying.  Yet.  They're just twitching in order to put on an act for the cameras, and being dismissed by the media and the medical community as a bunch of attention-seeking hypochondriacs.