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WHO OKs Use of Meningitis A Vaccine for Infants

FILE - The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The World Health Organization has given the go-ahead for a meningitis A vaccine to be used in infants younger than a year old in Africa.

The vaccine, MenAfriVac, has been highly effective since its introduction four years ago in protecting children and adults ages 1 to 29.

The inexpensive, safe vaccine has been administered to more than 215 million people in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa's so-called meningitis belt, where the disease occurs regularly in an area between Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east.

The countries include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Togo and Gambia.

One of the most devastating outbreaks occurred in 1996-97, when an epidemic of meningitis A infected a quarter-million people and killed 25,000 in a few months.

But since the widespread use of MenAfriVac in 2010, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of cases and it confers "community" immunity among unvaccinated groups.

In 2012, there was a 90 percent drop in the incidence and transmission of meningitis A in Chad.

Meningitis A causes high fever and severe headache, along with vomiting and nausea, seizures, sleepiness and sensitivity to light.

It is thought that giving the drug to infants as part of a routine vaccination schedule will further reduce the number of meningitis outbreaks.

The low-cost MenAfriVac was developed by a partnership between the nonprofit Meningitis Vaccine Project and Serum Institute of India.

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