UN health officials say the number of meningitis cases in the western African nation of Niger has surpassed 1,000 cases. Since January, Niger has seen 1,049 meningitis cases in the current epidemic, which has killed 76.

Niger (in red) Image/FireSky
Niger (in red)

The Niger Health Ministry says the bulk of the cases are in children.

A vaccination campaign has reached more than 130,000 in recent months and antibiotics have been distributed to treat suspect cases.

Last year, Niger had an outbreak of meningococcal meningitis that affected more than 8,000 and killed hundreds.

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. Common symptoms 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.

Niger sits in what is called the “meningitis belt” that stretches across sub-Saharan Africa.