Meningitis In Africa

Meningitis in Africa occurs typically in belt across the semi-desert Sahel region just to the south of the Sahara desert. Outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis occur regularly in this region which includes the hunting areas of Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, northern Uganda, northern Cameroon, northern CAR and northern Benin.

Meningitis In Africa Map
Orange = The High Risk 'Meningitis Belt' Areas Of Africa - CDC 2017

Meningitis Facts

  • The term 'Meningitis' refers to the infection of the membrane lining the brain and spinal cord.
  • The infection may be caused by many different types of bacteria or viruses.
  • Untreated bacterial meningitis can rapidly become fatal.
  • Viral meningitis usually subsides without treatment.
  • Meningococcal Meningitis is one type of meningitis that is a particular hazard to travellers as it occurs in sudden epidemics, especially in crowded areas.
  • Infection is acquired by inhalation of bacteria in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air.

Meningitis Symptoms

  • Severe headache, light sensitivity and stiff neck preventing bending the head forward.
  • Meningococcal meningitis causes a blotchy rash before the onset of the above symptoms.

Summary For African Travellers and Hunters

  • Meningitis in Africa is of low risk to hunters even when an outbreak is occuring. However, someone intending to live closely with local people should really be immunized beforehand.
  • People who may have had their spleen surgically removed should be immunized even if they are only passing through the meningitis belt. Their chances of developing meningitis are much increased.
  • To prevent the form of viral meningitis associated with polio infection, all travellers and hunters should be immunized against polio.
  • If meningococcal meningitis is suspected treatment must start immediately as death can occur within a few hours.
  • Meningitis diagnosis can only be confirmed by lumbar puncture and growing meningococcus from the cerebrospinal fluid - not always possible to do in Africa.
  • Large doses of penicillin must be given, ideally intravenously. Again limited facilities may mean intramuscular injections are the only course of action.
  • Vaccination against meningococcal meningitis is recommended.

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Page Updated: Mar 2024

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