Meningitis outbreak kills 784 people in Burkina Faso
OUAGADOUGOU, Apr 2 (Reuters) A meningitis outbreak in Burkina Faso this year has killed nearly twice as many people as died of the disease in the same period in 2005 but experts said effective treatment helped keep the overall mortality rate low.
The Health Ministry said 784 people died of meningitis in 2006, compared with 432 deaths in 2005.
This year there were significantly more infections during a roughly 12-week period -- 8,186 -- but the mortality rate was just 9.6 per cent. Last year, the rate was 22.1 per cent, as there were only 1,951 people infected.
Health experts hailed effective treatment for halving the mortality rate of people infected with the disease -- an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
''We have managed this year to keep the mortality rate below 10 percent by systematically treating any suspected case of meningitis,'' the ministry's director-general of health, Sosthene Zombre, told a news conference late on Friday.
Twelve of Burkina Faso's 55 health districts have been placed on alert because of the deadly outbreak.
The bacteria and viruses which cause meningitis are often transmitted by coughing or sneezing and people with reduced immunity to disease or malnutrition are more at risk.
Burkina Faso lies in Africa's impoverished ''meningitis belt'', which stretches from Senegal and Gambia in the west to Ethiopia in the east, with a total population of around 300 million. Several vaccines exist to prevent the disease.
A landlocked country in the arid Sahel region just south of the Sahara desert, Burkina Faso ranked as the third poorest country on Earth in the United Nation's 2005 Human Development Index. Half its 13 million people live on less than 1 dollar a day.
REUTERS PV VC0835