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Meningitis outbreak in South Sudan

16 May 2013

The Ministry of Health of South Sudan declared an outbreak of meningitis in Malakal County in Upper Nile State on 30th April 2013. The latest report dated 5th May 2013 stated that there were 73 reported cases, including 3 deaths. The ages of those who have contracted the disease has ranged from 4 to 20 years of age. The number of new cases is still rising.

A partnership of government agencies and non-governmental organisations are coordinating a vaccination campaign to reach 150,000 people out of 220,000 living in Malakal County and surrounding districts. A community outreach programme to increase awareness of meningitis and help identify new cases as early as possible is also being rolled out. Partner organisations are also helping to establish an isolation ward to boost capacity at Malakal hospital as well as increasing surveillance activities in neighbouring counties to monitor any spread of the outbreak.

South Sudan

Map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

The Ministry of Health declared South Sudan free from meningitis in 2012. It has now reactivated national and state epidemic task forces to coordinate the response to the current outbreak. In addition it is increasing surveillance at community level and providing enhanced case management and laboratory capacity.

Meningococcal meningitis – a brief outline

Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. It spreads mainly through kisses, sneezes, coughs and in close living quarters.

Eighteen countries of Sub Saharan Africa extending from western Senegal to Eastern Ethiopia are particularly prone to epidemics of meningitis especially during the dry season. Medical experts believe that dust, which is common during the dry season, leads to an increase in respiratory infections and helps spread the disease because the bacteria attach themselves to dust particles.

Advice for those travelling to or working in the areas affected:

·    Be aware of how meningitis is spread eg through cough droplets and sneezes. Individuals can be meningitis carriers but may not display any symptoms (asymptomatic carriers).
·    Avoid being in overcrowded situations.
·    Practice good hand hygiene.
·    Ensure you are vaccinated against meningitis. Meningitis vaccine ACWY is recommended for all travellers going into areas where there is a current outbreak and for people working within the Meningitis belt where they have ‘close contact with the local population’.

For further advice please click on the related information topics on the right hand panel of this screen.


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