Meningitis is a serious and potentially fatal disease caused by different bacteria. It is an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.
It normally occurs during the dry season, and in Africa, a meningitis belt, affecting 26 countries stretching from Senegal in the West to Ethiopia in the East, has been identified.
Meningitis mostly attacks infants, children, and young adults and up to 500 million people are said to be at risk from this infection that can cause severe brain damage and kills one out of 10 patients even if they receive effective antibiotics.
Also at risk are older adults and people who have long-term health problems such as a weakened immune system. Many suffer life-long disabilities, including hearing loss, seizures and learning difficulties.
Outbreak in Ghana
In Ghana, the worse outbreak of meningitis occurred in 1994 and 1996 which affected 17,000 people, leaving 1,000 of them dead.
The Head of Surveillance of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, in an interview with the Daily Graphic, said the disease presents with fever, persistent headache, stiff neck and altered consciousness.
It normally occurs in the three regions in the north and the upper part of the Brong Ahafo Region and some parts of the Ashanti Region.
The common bacteria, which cause meningitis in Ghana, are pneumococcal, Neisseria meningitidis and haemophile influenza type B.
Meningitis is contagious. The germs that cause it can be passed from one person to another through coughing, sneezing and close contact.
According to Dr Asiedu-Bekoe, the pneumococcal and haemophile bacteria, which are treated with anti-biotics, do not cause large outbreaks unlike the neisseria meningitidis bacteria which are treated with vaccination.
He said a seven-member emergency medical team had been dispatched to the Brong Ahafo Region to support the regional and district health teams to combat the spread of meningitis in the area.
Led by Dr Asiedu-Bekoe, the team is made up of health experts, including epidemiologists and laboratory technicians and they will also travel to Bole in the Northern Region where about 10 cases of pneumococcal meningitis have been recorded.
Although no death has been recorded at Bole so far, Dr Asiedu-Bekoe said the situation was critical as the disease had within two weeks killed about 20 people in the Brong Ahafo Region.
According to him, preliminary investigations into some of the cases of meningitis at Wenchi in the Brong Ahafo Region were from Bole.
So far, different cases of meningitis have been recorded in Tain, Wenchi, Kintampo, Techiman Municipal, Techiman North and Sene, all in the Brong Ahafo Region.
Situation under control
Dr Asiedu-Bekoe said in Tain where the first case of pneumococcal meningitis, which is caused by an organism known as streptococcal pneumonia, was recorded, nine people had died, while 31 others had been hospitalised.
In Wenchi, he said, 20 people were hospitalised, while five others had died from the same meningitis in Tain, with Kintampo recording one case with no death.
However, he said, in the Techiman municipal area, nine cases were recorded and six had died.
He explained that three of the cases in the Techiman Municipality were caused by a different organism known as meningococcus, referred to as w135, which causes cerebral spinal meningitis (CSM).
He said in the Techiman North District, seven cases were recorded with no death, while Sene also recorded three cases of the w135 organism.
He said the situation had been brought under control in Tain and Wenchi as no case had been recorded since January 6, 2016.
Dr Asiedu-Bekoe called on people to report cases on time, saying that “it takes about 10 to 14 days to effectively treat these cases of meningitis.”