Sahel meningitis outbreaks linked to wind and dust levels, c

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Sahel meningitis outbreaks linked to wind and dust levels, c

Unread postby zeru » 25 Mar 2014 09:51

Researchers collaborate with health officials to plan vaccination campaigns after discovering how to predict seasonal outbreaks
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A donkey throws up dust in Chad's Mao region. Research suggests wind and dust levels can be used to predict meningitis. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Scientists may soon be able to forecast disease outbreaks in sub-Saharan African's "meningitis belt" using weather data. The forecasts could be used to plan early vaccination drives aimed at preventing or limiting casualties.
In the "meningitis belt" of sub-Saharan Africa, which stretches across the Sahel from Senegal to Ethiopia, major epidemics of lethal meningitis are routine. A devastating 1996-97 outbreak killed about 25,000 people.
An effective new vaccine has driven a decrease in meningitis, but the standard procedure in the region has been to carry out vaccination drives and antibiotic treatment of the disease in districts already suffering outbreaks. In some cases, help arrives too late to make a significant impact, health officials say.
In the near future, though, scientists might be able to use climate factors such as wind and dust conditions to forecast these epidemics and develop earlier vaccination strategies to prevent or limit casualties.
New research carried out in Niger by the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society found that measured levels of wind and dust can be used to predict some of the annual variability in meningitis outbreaks, at both national and district levels.
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