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Two months into the dry season in the African meningitis belt, 15,595 cases of meningitis—including 1,670 deaths—have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). The affected countries are Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Uganda.

WHO promotes a two-pronged strategy for dealing with such outbreaks: epidemic preparedness and epidemic response (including mass vaccination). Already around 1.5 million people in affected counties have been reached by mass vaccination campaigns organized and supported by national authorities, WHO, Médecins sans Frontières, and other international partners. Vaccination campaigns are ongoing in Burkina Faso. Read more about the outbreak and the international response on WHO's website.

Samples obtained from patients indicate that these cases are caused by Neisseria meningitidisserogroup A, the most common type of meningitis in Africa. PATH and WHO are supporting the development of an improved and affordable vaccine against this type of meningitis. Expected to be available by 2010, the new vaccine will offer longer-lasting protection, allowing preventive immunization.

Posted March 20, 2007.