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Burkina Faso warns of possible meningitis epidemic

Doctors have been sent out across Burkina Faso to study the profile of the outbreak and oversee care and preventive measures.
by Staff Writers
Ouagadougou (AFP) Feb 16, 2009
The authorities of Burkina Faso on Monday warned that the west African country is facing a possible meningitis epidemic as well as an "abnormal increase" in measles in the past three months.

According to health ministry officials there have already been 138 deaths of meningitis out of 948 suspected cases of the disease since the start of the new year.

Last year in Burkina Faso 920 people died out of 9,420 registered cases of meningitis.

"At the moment these are warnings," Dr Ousmane Badolo, epidemic specialist at the health ministry told AFP. "We are not yet in an epidemic situation."

Meningitis is very contagious and initial symptoms include a quickly rising temperature, violent headaches, vomiting and neck stiffness. It is declared an epidemic when there are at least 10 cases per 100,000 people.

For the past few years Burkina Faso has been the worst affected country on the sub-Saharan "meningitis belt" that stretches from Senegal on the Atlantic coast to Ethiopia in the east.

The government in Ouagadougo has adopted an emergency plan to face the possible meningitis epidemic.

It calls for additional funds of almost 8 billion CFA francs (over 12 million euros) on top of the 1.3 billion CFA francs so far earmarked to combat the disease. Burkina Faso hopes to raise this money from donors.

In addition to the threat of a meningitis epidemic Burkina Faso has also seen an "abnormal increase" in measles the past three months, after a steady five-year decline in the incidence of the disease, Badolo said.

The doctor, who heads the epidemic disease surveillance unit of the ministry, said the situation was unusual and had led so far to nine deaths out of 1,795 known cases in the landlocked sub-Saharan country, one of the poorest in the world.

Doctors have been sent out across Burkina Faso to study the profile of the outbreak and oversee care and preventive measures, the senior health official said.

Measles is a highly infectious disease easily treated in developed nations but dangerous and sometimes fatal in poor countries. It induces a high fever, runny noses, coughing and skin irritation with red patches.

Infected people are very sensitive to light.

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