Febrile seizures in an urban Tanzanian population: lessons learned from a community-based random cluster survey

Trop Med Int Health. 2021 Apr;26(4):492-502. doi: 10.1111/tmi.13548. Epub 2021 Feb 18.


Objective: To analyse the cumulative incidence of febrile seizures, to evaluate the accuracy of our screening questionnaire and to describe clinical characteristics of children with febrile seizure in an urban population in Tanzania.

Methods: A large random cluster sampled population was screened for a febrile seizure history as part of a larger epilepsy study using a standardised questionnaire in a two-stage door-to-door survey in Tanzania. A subset of screen positive participants was further examined for confirmation of diagnosis and evaluation of clinical characteristics.

Results: Overall, 49 697 people were screened for a febrile seizure history of whom 184 (0.4%) screened positive. Women more commonly screened positive than men (112 [0.4%] vs. 72 [0.3%]). There was no marked difference between age groups or education. The positive predictive value of the screening tool was 37% (95% CI 24-51%) but its accuracy varied with the age of interviewed individuals. Cumulative incidence rates were estimated between 1.1% and 2.0% after adjusting for the inaccuracy of the screening tool. Most febrile seizures occurred before the age of two (65%) and most children had more than one episode (80%). A large proportion of children had complex febrile seizure (65%), often caused by malaria or respiratory infections.

Conclusions: The community-based cumulative incidence of a febrile seizure history in an urban Tanzanian population was similar to rates reported from other rural populations after adjusting for the inaccuracy of our screening tool. Based on the integrated nature of the febrile seizure questionnaire, screening positivity rates may have been too low. This has implications for the design of future studies. The majority of cases had complex febrile seizures often associated with malaria. This has implications for clinical case management.

Keywords: Tanzania; epidemiology; febrile seizures; malaria.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology*
  • Epilepsy / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Malaria / complications
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / complications
  • Seizures, Febrile / diagnosis
  • Seizures, Febrile / epidemiology*
  • Seizures, Febrile / etiology
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tanzania / epidemiology
  • Urban Population*
  • Young Adult

Grant support