Dubai boy, 4, suffers scurvy after meat-only diet

Youngster, who developed sickness when in Dubai, could not walk for two months before going to clinic in Pakistan with swollen joints.

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DUBAI // A four-year-old boy has developed scurvy because his parents fed him nothing but meat for two years.

The disease, now practically unheard of in the developed world, was diagnosed after the boy was admitted to a surgery in Pakistan with heavy swelling in the joints.

Scurvy occurs due to a lack of vitamin C in the diet, and symptoms can include bleeding gums, joint pain, and easy and severe bruising.

The boy, who developed scurvy while living in Dubai with his family, cannot be named and the parents could not be reached for comment.

Details of the case emerged after doctors who treated the child published a paper last month in the Case Reports in Orthopedics journal.

"We wanted to show that scurvy is still a problem and highlight the importance of good nutrition," said Dr Muhammad Salat, a doctor in paediatrics at Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi and one of the paper's authors.

Several hundred years ago the disease was common among sailors on long voyages, as they often did not have access to fresh fruit.

It has largely died out in the West but is still common in developing countries.

"If you go to the rural areas and slums where health care is not there, then you'll find all sorts of vitamin deficiencies, including scurvy," said Dr Salat.

But he said it was unusual to hear of a case in Dubai, where fresh fruit was plentiful.

Dr Sidiga Washi, a professor of nutrition at UAE University, said this was the first case of scurvy she had heard of in Dubai.

"It's actually hard to get it because you can get vitamin C from so many sources," Dr Washi said. "This is probably one of the only ways you'd get it, by just living on meat and nothing else for years."

The boy had intense swelling in his joints and was unable to walk for two months before going to the surgery in late 2009.

He was given 10 weeks of vitamin C replacement therapy and showed significant improvement.

"This was not an early-stage case," said Dr Salat. "The child had been ill for some time."

The boy was taken back to Dubai and Dr Salat said he had not received any more updates on his health.

He said it was not clear why the parents had fed the child only meat for two years.

"We tried to get a detailed nutritional history but they were a bit hesitant in giving the information," Dr Salat said.

"Sometimes language is a barrier; other times the mode of understanding of the family is a barrier."