Accessibility links

Meningitis Outbreak Contained in Burkina Faso, says WHO - 2004-04-09

The World Health Organization says it is managing to contain a new outbreak of a rare strain of meningitis in Burkina Faso. Two years ago, the same strain led to the deaths of 1,500 people. The World Health Organization says both infections and deaths are way down.

WHO spokesman Dick Thompson says the new strain of meningitis surfaced in Burkina Faso recently.

"There has been a meningitis outbreak going on for a couple of months now in Burkina Faso, but then a month ago, we noticed that there was a sub-strain of meningitis that was appearing in the midst of this other outbreak," he said.

Mr. Thompson says the sub-strain, known as W-135, inflicted a lot of damage in the region, and led to the deaths of 1,500 people two years ago. This time, he says, the WHO was ready.

"The only way to control a meningitis outbreak is to vaccinate the uninfected population," he said. "Two years ago in Burkina Faso, W-135 first appeared, and we were just helpless to do anything at all."

Meningitis is a disease that causes inflammation in the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and can kill within hours. Outbreaks of the disease spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa every year.

Since 2002, the World Health Organization has teamed up with Doctors Without Borders, the International Red Cross, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and several governments to create a vaccine specifically for the new strain, and provide an emergency stockpile.

Mr. Thompson says it is because of the partnership that health authorities were able to react to the Burkina Faso outbreak in record time.

Two years ago, 13,000 people became infected with the new strain, and 1,500 people died from it. This time, Mr. Thompson says, only 1,500 people were infected and 300 died.

WHO says 135,000 people are being vaccinated in Burkina Faso, in a campaign that will end in a few days. WHO says it hopes this will stamp out the outbreak of the disease for now.