The study was undertaken to investigate whether endemic goitre still exists in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa more than 55 years after it was reported and, if so, whether iodine deficiency, or fluoride in the drinking water, is linked to the goitres.
Cross-sectional study of children in three pairs of towns.
The 6-, 12- and 15-year-old children (n = 671) who had been lifetime residents in two Northern Cape towns with low levels, two towns with near optimal levels and two towns with high levels of fluoride in the drinking water were recruited through the schools as study participants.
Endemic goitre was found in all the towns except one, ranging from 5% to 29%. Iodine deficiency did not prevail in the study area because the median urinary iodine concentration, exceeding 1.58 micromol/l in all but one of the towns, indicated a more than adequate iodine consumption. The drinking water and, to a lesser extent, iodised salt were important sources of iodine. No relationship was found between fluoride in the water and the mild goitre prevalence (5% to 18%) in the four towns with either a low or near optimal fluoride content in the water. The causal factor(s) responsible for the goitres in these four towns were not clear from our data. However, the prevalence of goitre was higher (28% and 29%) in the two towns with high levels of fluoride in the water.
These results indicate that either a high fluoride level in the water or another associated goitrogen, other than iodine deficiency, may have been responsible for these goitres.