December 4, 2023

Rickets, the forgotten disease of childhood: a new outbreak in Europe

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Skeletal disease rickets was considered almost eliminated. © Imago/Sasha Steinach

Vitamin D deficiency and malnutrition are leading to another outbreak of rickets in the UK. Poorer areas are particularly affected.

GLASGOW – A nearly eradicated disease is making a comeback in Europe: Last year, British health authorities recorded 442 cases of rickets – about 20 percent more than in 2018. The last time this childhood disease became more common was in 19th century. The causes of the disease can be easily avoided.

Long-term vitamin D deficiency leads to soft bones and bowed knees in children

If children or infants do not get enough vitamin D over a long period of time, it can lead to rickets, as the World Health Organization explains the causes of the disease. Lack of sunlight or poor nutrition are causes of deficiency. When there is a severe vitamin D deficiency, the body cannot store bone-strengthening calcium and phosphate, resulting in soft bones. Visible signs include bowed knees or bowed legs, which can make walking difficult.

Then as now: malnutrition in slums makes children vulnerable to rickets

In the 19th century, rickets was widespread due to malnutrition, especially in the slums of Britain. This link appears to still exist today: more than three-quarters of new cases were recorded in the Glasgow area in 2022, as reported by Agence France-Presse. The area is one of the poorest areas in Scotland, with nearly a third of children living in poverty, according to local authorities.

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Recently, so-called Victorian diseases such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever have also increased significantly. Stephen Baker, a molecular microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, confirmed to the Sunday Times: “Melanitis is associated with malnutrition, and the likelihood of malnutrition may be driven by the cost of living.” “Victorian diseases are diseases of poverty,” Baker continued.

Preventing vitamin D deficiency: Doctors recommend taking nutritional supplements

In Germany, doctors recommend taking additional amounts of vitamin D through nutritional supplements to prevent rickets, according to the medical journal published by the German Medical Association. However, the dosage must be strictly adhered to, as long-term overdose can be life-threatening to infants, according to Ärzteblatt. Vitamin D is found in foods such as fish or eggs. (With AFP)

Automated assistance was used in writing this article by the editorial team. The article was carefully examined by our editor, Richard Strobel, before publication.