An unprecedented meningitis outbreak is spreading at a rapid pace in Niger, which recorded a tripled increase of infected patients in the past two weeks, hundreds of fatalities so far this year and with vaccines in short supply, according to a WHO report on Friday.
The outbreak is caused by serogroup C virus, though normally prevalent in first world countries has never really been of high concern in African countries, where only sporadic cases and localized outbreaks were seen, the health agency of U.N. said.
Vaccines were short supply for this form of disease were in the outbreak was of a worrisome state because it has affected one million people more, in highly populated urban areas which includes the capital, Niamey, WHO website said.
6,179 alleged cases and 423 deaths were reported from Jan. 1 to May 12, counting 4,099 in Niamey, in which case 226 people have already died, the website said.
Meningitis is common throughout the “meningitis belt” located in Senegal to Ethiopia during the dry season from December to June.
Meningococcal meningitis affects the thin lining of the brain and spinal cord and is fatal in 50% of the cases.
An outbreak in 2009 resulted in a more than 80,000 cases and during 1996-1997, 200,000 cases which includes 20,000 deaths were recorded, WHO said.
A majority of those cases were the result of serogroup A meningitis.
Vaccination operations were carried out in 8 of the 11 affected districts, including Niamey. Case management facilities and teams of doctors were sent out by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
18,500 vials of ceftriaxone, a highly effective vaccine, helped reduce the fatality rate from 11 % to to 6.8 % in the past few weeks.