Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. Several different bacteria, viruses, fungi and some drugs and medical conditions i.e. inflammatory diseases such as lupus can cause meningitis. Neisseria meningitidis is one of the most important because of its potential to cause epidemics.
Meningococcal meningitis is caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria.
The diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis is suspected by the clinical presentation and a lumbar puncture showing a purulent spinal fluid.
Sometimes the bacteria can be seen in microscopic examinations of the spinal fluid.
The diagnosis is confirmed by growing the bacteria from specimens of spinal fluid or blood.
Meningitis in South Africa has sporadic outbreaks, which are most prevalent during droughts, dry and dusty or winter seasons. The number of cases increases in winter and spring.
During the dry season, between December and June, because of dust winds and upper respiratory tract infections due to cold nights, the local immunity of the pharynx is diminished increasing the risk of meningitis.
At the same time, the transmission of N. meningitidis is favoured by overcrowded housing at family level and by large population displacements due to pilgrimages and traditional markets at regional level.
Currently recommendations for chemoprophylaxis in South Africa are as follows:
Vaccines are available to prevent the disease.