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26 Mar 2002 00:00
Johannesburg | Friday
A NEW strain of meningitis has broken out in the west African country Burkino Faso, Medinfo said on Friday.
It said in a statement that Burkino Faso had been experiencing an outbreak of the lethal A and C strains of the disease since the beginning of the year.
But the new strain, known as W135, is of particular concern because it has never before been reported on the African continent.
Health authorities from the Centres for Disease Control in the United States along with the World Health Organisation were urgently investigating the new outbreak, Medinfo said.
“The W135 strain has demonstrated its propensity for spread, and if it has gained a permanent foothold on the African continent it has serious implications for public health,” said Dr Andrew Jamieson of Netcare Travel Clinics.
So far 544 people in Burkino Faso have been killed by the disease since the beginning of January and more than 3 500 cases have been reported, Medinfo said.
Meningococcal meningitis, which includes the A, C and W135 strains, is a diseases that kills one in every four people infected, including those who get treatment.
The new fatal W135 strain was initially associated with the thousands who returned from the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 2000.
This year, Saudi Arabian authorities insisted that all pilgrims get vaccinated against the new strain but this resulted in a world-wide vaccination shortage.
Some South Africans who attended this year’s Hajj pilgrimage were also told they were immunised against the strain when in fact they were not, Medinfo said.
Burkina Faso falls into the African ‘meningitis belt’ - a region, south of the Sahara desert, that stretches from the west to east coasts of the continent.
Every year in Africa, outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis occur in this region. - Sapa
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