The current meningitis outbreak in Nigeria has reached a total of 19 states. About 4000 people are suspected to have been infected so far, out of which over 400 are already dead.
Like we stated in a previous health tip on meningitis, Nigeria is one of the countries in the African meningitis belt: a broad region across Africa, cutting across many countries, where the rate of meningitis infection is very high. In Nigeria, the entire north and some parts of the southwest fall within this African meningitis belt, meaning that outbreaks are common in these parts of the country, especially the north, during the dry season, between December and March.
This current outbreak is a bit dangerous because a lot of people are not immune to the particular bacterial strain that has been identified as the cause. There were nationwide programs in the past few years to vaccinate Nigerians aged between 2 and 29 years against the Neisseria meningitidis type A which has been the major cause of previous outbreaks. But this current outbreak is being attributed to the type C strain of the organism and the vaccine against it is not widely available, even outside the country because it is not that common.
Meningitis is a medical emergency and is deadly especially in young children. In order to be on the safe side, every person, family, and community should:
1. Observe strict personal hygiene
The Neisseria meningitidis microorganism causing meningitis usually reside in the nose and throat of those who are exposed. This means sneezing, coughing and handling of objects with soiled hands can transmit this microorganism to another person. Therefore, endeavour to:
-always wash your hands with soap and water after handling dirty things
-don’t share water bottles, eating utensils or cups, especially in places where cases of meningitis have been reported
-Don’t share towels, lipstick or lip gloss
2. Avoid overcrowding
Overcrowding is one of the factors enabling quick transmission of this meningitis microorganism. Hence,
-families should ensure their rooms are well ventilated (windows are fitted with nets and open) and are not overcrowded
- parents and teachers should ensure that creche and nursery school classrooms are well ventilated. They should also make sure fewer children stay in one classroom to avoid overcrowding. Once, a child comes down with any illness, he or she should be taken to the sick bay immediately for treatment to prevent the spread of whatever infection it may be.
3. People who smoke, especially in states where cases of meningitis have been reported, should cut down and stop cigarette smoking as it makes their respiratory tract more vulnerable to being invaded by the Neisseria meningitidis organism which can go on to cause meningitis.
4. Early treatment
People should look out for symptoms of meningitis such as a severe headache, fever, vomiting, neck stiffness, eye pain on exposure to bright lights. Noting these symptoms early means the affected persons can be taken to the hospital for immediate treatment with the appropriate antibiotics.
Also, members of the family of affected persons and other people who came in contact with them should receive appropriate antibiotics treatment to prevent them from developing the disease.
5. Get vaccinated
Vaccines against infections train the body’s immune system to properly defeat these infections when the body is exposed to the microorganisms causing them. Getting vaccinated is the best way to stay safe from meningitis. This starts from:
-ensuring that babies, from birth, receive all the recommended vaccinations according to the National Programme on Immunisation plus other vaccinations such as the meningococcal vaccine against meningitis for children (after 2 years of age) in the northern parts of Nigeria.
-people planning to travel to the north, those who are HIV positive and people whose spleens (the spleen is an organ in the body which recycles old red blood cells and helps in fighting certain bacteria that cause pneumonia and meningitis) have been removed should endeavour to receive the meningococcal vaccine as they are at a higher risk of coming down with meningitis.
-people should make themselves available for any nationwide vaccination programme especially now that the Nigerian government is making plans to bring in hundreds of thousands of vaccines against the type C strain causing the current meningitis outbreak.
For more advice and help, feel free to ask a Doctor on Kangpe.