- An outbreak of meningitis has added salt to injury in Southern Sudan that has been crippling with war, famine and other crisis. Already, health experts have discovered 231 cases of suspected meningitis from September to November. 16 of this number have died. Also a possible outbreak of bird flu is investigated.
According to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) today, the cases of meningitis were found in Greater Yei County in the Central Equatorial state of autonomous South Sudan.
"The epidemic threshold was crossed in this county during the last week of October. Five cerebral spinal fluid specimens have tested positive for Neisseria meningitidis serogroup A by latex test," a WHO statement said, adding that an outbreak investigation was conducted by the Ministry of the Central Equatorial State with the support of WHO's Early Warning and Response Network (EWARN) team and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also, there was a national multisectoral task force established earlier this year, which includes county health authorities, UNICEF, WHO and non-governmental organisations in coordinating the outbreak response.
"Enhanced surveillance, case management, and social mobilization are underway, as well as the preparation of a vaccination campaign targeting ca 294,000 people in the affected area."
Meningitis, also referred to as meningococcal disease, is a contagious bacterial disease caused by the meningococcus bacteria. It is spread by person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets of infected people.
The disease has three main clinical forms - meningeal syndrome, septic form and pneumonia. And according to health experts, the onset of symptoms is sudden and death can follow within hours. In as many as 10-15 percent of its survivors, there are persistent neurological defects, including hearing loss, speech disorders, loss of limbs, mental retardation and paralysis.
It is also believed that between 5 and 10 percent of a population may be symptomatic carriers of the disease. Overcrowding, prolonged droughts and dusty storms are said to have strained the seasonal disease, which is mainly common among young children.
In addition to the proven meningitis outbreak, South Sudan authorities are struggling with a presumed outbreak of avian flu in Juba, the autonomous region's capital. Tests have still to be verified abroad, but authorities fear a bird flu outbreak may have severe consequences for peasants, many of whom hold chicken as a supplementary food source. In the worst case, large numbers of birds will have to be culled.
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