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The Sophie Cameron Trust has funded work by Professor Joel Vilensky of Indiana University School of Medicine to develop computer software for a new database of encephalitis lethargica signs and symptoms, which we hope will eventually lead to quicker and more accurate diagnosis of EL.

Professor Vilensky writes:

"I have located approximately 800 case studies of the disease from the 1920-40 era (from books and articles) and approximately 100 hospital charts from the Matheson clinical EL vaccine trials (1930-40; located at Columbia University Library archives in New York). My goal is to develop a database that will incorporate as many of the signs and symptoms associated with each of these cases as possible, and then to use modern computer-based statistical analysis to try to make sense out of this mysterious disease. Specifically, I will use a technique called factor analysis, which tries to find correlations among a large number of variables. An identical procedure was used to find specific sub-syndromes associated with the vague symptoms attributed to Gulf War Syndrome.

I am hopeful that through this analysis it would be much easier to diagnose EL when there is not an EL epidemic occurring. Further, I am also hopeful that the analysis will enable some degree of predictability as to how a particular EL patient will progress (e.g., recover, develop PEL). "

Professor Vilensky, together with Professor Sid Gilman, recently published an article (ref. 1) reviewing the symptoms and classifications of various types of EL in the journal Practical Neurology. This article deals with the classifications that were developed during and after the EL pandemic that occurred following World War I, and discusses their relevance to modern diagnosis. The full text of the article is available from the Practical Neurology website (http://jnnp.bmj.com/) for a small charge. Other publications by Professor Vilensky include an article about movement disorders in EL (ref. 2), an editorial in the New York Times about the possibility of a further outbreak of EL in the future (ref. 3), and a recent review article about EL in children (ref. 4).


(1) Vilensky JA, Gilman S, Encephalitis Lethargica: could this disease be recognised if the epidemic recurred? Practical Neurology 2006 6: 360-367.
(2) Vilensky JA, Goetz CG, Gilman S, Movement disorders associated with encephalitis lethargica: A video compilation. Movement Disorders, 2006 Jan; 21(1):1-8.
(3) Sacks O, Vilensky JA, Waking to a new flu threat. New York Times, 16th November 2005.
(4) Vilensky JA, Foley P, Gilman S, Children and encephalitis lethargica. A historical review. Pediatric Neurology 2007 37(2) 79-84.


What is Encephalitis Lethargica

The "Spanish" Influenza epedemic of 1918 and EL




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