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Africa's Meningitis Season Less Deadly This Year

Africa's meningitis season less deadly so far than last year, UN reports

22 February 2008 - Africa's "meningitis belt" is so far experiencing much lower levels of cases than at the same time during last year's annual epidemic season, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.

Preliminary reports from 13 countries under the greatest surveillance indicate 2,312 cases - which include 324 deaths - during the first six weeks of this year in the belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. This is 29 per cent below the corresponding figures from last year, when 3,274 cases had been reported and 413 people had died.

However, major outbreaks have still been reported in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo have all reported cases of the highly contagious disease, but not enough to reach epidemic levels. There have been no cases so far in Cameroon or Chad.

WHO said that major vaccination campaigns are being carried out in both Burkina Faso and the CAR, while assessments are still taking place in the DRC and in neighbouring southern Sudan and Uganda.

Meningitis bacteria, which affect the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions. Close and prolonged contact such as kissing, sneezing and coughing, and sharing eating or drinking utensils, facilitates the spread. Symptoms include stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. The disease can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors.

ENDS

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