The meningococcal disease outbreak in the Africa Meningitis Belt country of Niger has peaked, according to officials at the World Health Organization. To date, 8,234 people have contracted the serious bacterial disease with 545, or 6.6% of those infected losing their lives.
According to a Reuters report today, the spread of the disease peaked in the week to May 10, when there were 2,189 cases and 132 deaths. In the last week of the month there were 264 cases and 8 deaths, WHO spokesman Cory Couillard said in an emailed response to Reuters.
Niger sits in what is called the “meningitisbelt” that stretches across sub-Saharan Africa. PATH, the global health international nonprofit organization says about 450 million people are living in the “meningitis belt” are at risk of contracting meningococcus type A, the strain most commonly found in the region.
However, WHO says the epidemic in Niger and neighboring Nigeria is being caused by different strain of the deadly bacterium, in fact, two strains–meningococcus C and to a lesser extent, meningococcus W135.
Neisseria meningitidis, the causative agent of meningococcal disease, is a gram-negative diplococcus. Meningococci are classified into serogroups on the basis of the composition of the capsular polysaccharide. The 5 major meningococcal serogroups associated with disease are A, B, C, Y, and W-135.
Meningitis-causing bacteria colonize the back of the throat and can spread quickly through sneezing and coughing in the region’s often overcrowded and poor living conditions. According to the CDC “Yellow Book”, the symptoms of meningococcal disease can vary based on the type of illness that develops. Commonsymptoms of meningococcal meningitis include sudden fever, headache, and stiff neck. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, and confusion.
Children and infants may show different signs, such as inactivity, irritability, vomiting, or poor reflexes.Meningococcal disease can also cause an infection of the blood which can lead to tiredness, vomiting, cold hands and feet, chills, severe aches and pain, fast breathing, diarrhea, and a dark purple rash. Meningococcal disease is very serious and can be fatal. In fatal cases, deaths can occur in as little as a few hours.