Meningitis is an infection that attacks the thin lining surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. This lining is known as meninges. Several different bacteria can cause this infection. Neisseria meningitis has the potential to cause epidemics. 12 subtypes of Neisseria meningitis have been identified and out of these N. meningitis A, B, C and W135 are recognized to cause epidemics.
Meningococcal meningitis occurs in small clusters throughout the world. However highest incidence of this disease is in sub-Saharan Africa and this area is known as the ‘Meningitis Belt’. The area stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east and covers a population of 300 million.
During the dry season from December to June dusty winds and cold nights give rise to upper respiratory track infections and the local immunity of pharynx gets reduced and the stage gets set for meningitis to have a field day. Spreading of meningitis becomes easier due to overcrowded housing of families. Large epidemics of meningitis invariably occur in sub-Saharan Africa during this period. N. Meningitis A, C and W135 are the main serogroups that are involved in Africa.
In major African epidemics attack rates range from 100 to 800 per 100,000 population and some places it could be as high as 1000 per 10,000 population. In 1996, Africa experienced largest recorded epidemic of Meningitis in history with over 250,000 cases and 25,000 deaths. The most affected countries have been Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, and Niger. It is observed that the belt has shifted southwards in 2002.
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