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More than 150 die in Nigeria meningitis outbreak

A third of the deaths were in the north east, which includes Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Taraba states.

Last year, about 400 people reportedly died in the country after being infected with the deadly disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that by the end of February last year, it had recorded 8, 423 cases with 1, 181 deaths.  Over the years, the government has been criticised as being slow to respond. But after a recent alert in neighbouring Chad and in Burkina Faso, Nigeria’s health authorities are hoping to have prevented a major outbreak in the country.  Northern states were put on high alert after a meningitis outbreak in neighbouring Niger, which, according to WHO, killed 17 people and infected 382 in January.

The Federal Ministry of Health said it had already sent out 370,000 doses of meningitis vaccines, and promised to make sure medics were equipped with enough resources to diagnose and treat the disease, Nigerian newspaper, Punch reported. Even when diagnosed and treated early meningitis kills up to 10 per cent of those infected, typically within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, the WHO said. Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. Several different bacteria can cause meningitis. The disease – transmitted by nose and throat secretions – spreads more easily in overcrowded conditions. And the hot dry climate drives up the risk of outbreaks turning into a meningitis epidemic from November to June. In West Africa, infections generally peak in April.

Musa Ali, who lives in Yobe state is sleeping outdoors to avoid infection. "It has become necessary for us to sleep outside due to the unbearable heat, because sleeping indoors can cause CSM [cerebrospinal meningitis],” he said. Most families now sleep on their verandas, balconies and in some cases the men sleep in front of their homes," he told the United Nations news service, IRIN.

Nigeria, experts say, is in the centre of the African meningitis belt that spans 21 countries. About 30 per cent of the population in these countries are in Nigeria. By March 15, the most affected countries in the region were Burkina Faso with 2,520 reported cases and 328 deaths and Chad with 1,282 cases and 130 deaths, according to WHO. Six districts in Burkina Faso and five districts in Chad are in epidemic phase, with at least 10 of 100,000 people infected.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children