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    Pellagra is a nutritional deficiency disease associated with niacin (vitamin B3) deficiency. The history of pellagra is well documented for Europe and the USA, but less is known about the prevalence in sub-Saharan African countries. This study documents the history of pellagra in South Africa, as diagnosed based on dermatological symptoms. Scoping review of information from scientific databases, library archives, other archives and record services and from Statistics South Africa. South Africa, 1897-2019. South African. Pellagra was first officially recorded in South Africa in 1906, but there are earlier indications of the disease. The prevalence of pellagra peaked after it was all but eradicated in the USA and Europe. Pellagra was never as prevalent in South Africa as in Europe, the USA and Egypt, where special hospitals for pellagrins were established. However, studies on urinary excretion of metabolites conducted in 1960s and 1970s suggested a high prevalence of subclinical (sub-pellagra) niacin deficiency, especially in previously disadvantaged Black populations. As in Europe and the USA, pellagra was associated with poverty and an overdependence on maize as staple food. Malnutrition was the main cause of the disease, but alcohol abuse might have been a contributing factor. In South Africa, reports of pellagra had declined by the late 1980s/early 1990s and hardly any cases were reported by the year 2000. Although pellagra, diagnosed based on dermatological symptoms, appears to be largely eradicated in South Africa, it does not rule out the potential for subclinical niacin deficiency.


    Margaretha Viljoen, Priyesh Bipath, Cheryl Tosh. Pellagra in South Africa from 1897 to 2019: a scoping review. Public health nutrition. 2021 Jun;24(8):2062-2076

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    PMID: 33769244

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