Meningitis is an infection of the fluid of a person's spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. People sometimes refer to it as spinal
meningitis. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Knowing whether meningitis is caused by a virus or bacterium is important
because the severity of illness and the treatment differ. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while
bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disability. For bacterial meningitis, it is also
important to know which type of bacteria is causing the meningitis because antibiotics can prevent some types from spreading and infecting other
people. Before the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, but new vaccines being given to all
children as part of their routine immunizations have reduced the occurrence of invasive disease due to H. influenzae. Today, Streptococcus pneumoniae
and Neisseria meningitidis are the leading causes of bacterial meningitis.
The following was taken from:
More than 200 people have died of meningitis in the past week alone in Niger and Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization.
The disease is an epidemic in 76 areas of the two countries, the health agency reported Wednesday.
A spokesman for W.H.O. in Nigeria, Dr. Olaokun Soyinka, said Saturday that the outbreak is bigger than usual and stretches across the African
meningitis belt from east- to west-sub-Saharan Africa.
The outbreak began around the start of the year, Soyinka told CNN. It usually peaks in the dry season because of dust, winds and cold nights, before
dipping around May when the rains come, he said.
A shortage of vaccines means officials are relying on "effective prevention," in which they watch for outbreaks and then vaccinate people in the
epicenter and surrounding areas, Soyinka told CNN.
There have been nearly 25,000 suspected cases and more than 1,500 deaths in the meningitis belt in the first 11 weeks of the year, W.H.O. reported.
More than 85 percent of those cases happened in northern Nigeria and Niger.
Nigeria's Ministry of Health has reported 17,462 suspected cases of meningococcal disease, including 960 deaths, the world health agency said. In the
past week, it reported 4,164 suspected cases with 171 deaths.
For much more information on this developing story, see the: Worldview blog