Published on November 10th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance


Childhood Scurvy Cases on Rise in England

Scurvy is one of those diseases of legend, conjuring up images of pirates and explorers of the sea.  When I think of scurvy, I still recall an educational video shown in elementary school of sailors falling ill from a lack of vitamin C.  Unfortunately for children in England, this legendary illness is on the rise. 

Photo by splattelChildhood scurvy returning to England

Childhood scurvy returning to England

Over the past three years, England has experienced “a rise of more than 50 per cent” in childhood scurvy cases. 94 children were admitted to the hospital in 2007-2008 for scurvy.  The majority of these children are from families of low socioeconomic status.  The Telegraph reports:

Ursula Arens, of the British Dietetic Association, told The Daily Mail: “There may be examples of children just living on bread and jam and nothing else because of poverty.  It is such an unusual thing now that perhaps it is something that many GPs would not be able to diagnose.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Families in lower income groups tend to consume less vitamin C in their diet.

Scurvy is an ancient illness first documented in Egypt around 1550 BC.  The symptoms include gum disease, skin spots, weakness, anemia, and skin hemorrhages.   James Lind is credited with discovering “that oranges and lemons were effective in curing scurvy” in 1746.  The disease has also crept up during historically significant periods, such as the American Civil War and the California Gold Rush.

According to Pediatrics, childhood scurvy is “very uncommon”.  In an article titled “An Orange a Day Keeps the Doctor Away:  Scurvy in the Year 2000”, the authors state, “It is usually seen in children with severely restricted diets attributable to psychiatric or developmental problems.”  They conclude:

Although rare, scurvy remains a condition that is still encountered in the pediatric population, especially among certain groups with unusual eating habits. A heightened awareness is needed to avoid unnecessary tests and procedures and to be able to implement treatment for a potentially fatal but easily curable disease.

Scurvy in the United States is rare and almost nonexistent in babies younger than seven-months-old.  According to eMedicine, internationally, “Epidemic scurvy has been reported among refugee populations.”  The fact the “Scourge of the Sea” is returning to western world is a reminder that malnutrition is still present in the modern world.  I think I will give my children some vitamin C now and slice up an orange!

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