Meningitis Outbreak Kills Hundreds in Nigeria

A doctor at the Maiduguri State Specialist Hospital tends to new arrivals on January 18, 2017. (Credit: STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A meningitis outbreak has killed about 282 people in Nigeria, the country’s Center for Disease Control said.

The agency reported a wide outbreak of cerebrospinal meningitis across 15 states.

A new strain of the disease called “stereotype C” has emerged, and there are not enough vaccines against it, the Center for Disease Control warned.

“There is a vaccine available,” Chief Executive Chikwe Ihekweazu said, “but it is not commercially available for the stereotype involved in this specific outbreak, and we have to make application to the World Health Organization for the vaccines.”

Nearly 2,000 suspected cases have been recorded and 109 have been treated since the outbreak began in February.

An emergency response team has been sent to the five states in the northwest of the country.

As one of the 26 countries on the African “meningitis belt,” Nigeria records some of the highest incidences of the disease on the continent.

The outbreaks peak in the dry season in certain states due to the low humidity and dusty conditions and usually end as the rainy season approaches, Ihekweazu added.

“Meningitis is a tough disease, especially during this period, and it is associated with overcrowding, understanding the living conditions in the country, people must keep their building ventilated,” he said.

According to the WHO, even when the disease is diagnosed early and adequate treatment begins, 5% to 10% of patients die, typically within 24 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Some common symptoms are stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting.

Local and international organizations are working together to manage the epidemic. “We believe that our concerted efforts will bring this outbreak under control, as we also work towards preventing outbreaks of this scale in the future,” the Center for Disease Control stated.