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Rickets, a disease formerly considered vanquished in most of the world, is now undergoing a resurgence, doctors are warning.
Rickets is a childhood disease caused by deficiency in vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bone growth and maintenance. In children, deficiency can produce stunted growth, ill-health and softened bones leading to bowed legs and other deformities. The disease was common in northern Europe during the Victorian era, but was largely vanquished when vitamin D supplementation began in the mid-twentieth century.
Now the disease has returned across England and other northern countries, particularly among people of African and Asian descent, whose darker skin protects them from the damaging effects of too much sunlight but also is less efficient at producing vitamin D. In addition, people from many such communities also traditionally wear more covering clothing, blocking even more sunlight.
"We thought that this was a disease that had been eradicated," said consultant pediatrician Sudhir Sethi, "but now I frequently see small children walking into my office with bowed legs and sometimes older children coming to me to complain of severe aches and pains. It's very frustrating because the disorder is entirely preventable."
According to figures from the Leicester Royal Infirmary, more than 200 children are treated for rickets every year at that hospital alone. But according to rickets expert James Greening, the true numbers are probably even higher.
"Only the very extreme cases of rickets in the area are referred to me," he said, "as most of the cases are seen by local general practitioners and pediatricians."
'There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is a growing problem, especially within the Asian and ethnic minority communities," Sethi agreed. "I am really shocked and saddened by the worrying trend we are seeing."
The BBC recounts the story of Rommi Rifibakhit, who was diagnosed with rickets at the age of two when his parents became worried about his slow development and other symptoms.
"He hadn't started walking or even crawling," his father Osman said. "He wasn't very active and he would just sit very quietly in one place.
"We also noticed that his wrists had started widening and eventually we took him to the doctors. We were shocked and really worried when we found out that he had rickets - we didn't even know what it was."
Although rickets is easy to cure with vitamin D supplementation, its physical and psychological effects can be long-term, doctors warn.
"Even once the child has been diagnosed, it can take a good few years for the legs to straighten," Sethi said. "This can have a significant impact on the early years of a child's life."
"There was a little boy that came to my clinic with bow legs and his mother told me that she had stopped taking him to any public gatherings," he said. "And, whenever she took him out she would dress him in very loose clothing so no one could see his legs. This is very sad that parents often feel ashamed that their child has developed the disorder and try to hide it."
Aware of the growing rickets problem, the U.K. Department of Health issued guidelines two years ago urging all pregnant and breastfeeding women to take a daily vitamin D supplement. Minoo Irani, a pediatrician specializing in rickets, goes even farther, suggesting that all dark-skinned pregnant women be screened for deficiency.
"If women have low levels of vitamin D then their baby can also be born with a deficiency," he said, "which can put it at risk of developing rickets. All women from a high-risk background, who are thinking of getting pregnant, should be tested and, if they are found to be deficient, then they can be adequately treated."
Sources for this story include:
David Gutierrez - Natural News