Monrovia – The 13 mysterious deaths that recently occurred in Sinoe and Montserrado Counties have been linked to Meningitis, the Ministry of Health has revealed.
The disclosure, which was made by Health Minister Bernice Dahn Monday runs contrary to a Friday disclosure by the World Health Organization that the deaths were a result of a probable cause of food poisoning.
While laboratory test was ongoing in the United States and Europe, WHO spokesman, Tarik Jaserevic, according to a U.K. newspaper, The Guardian, told reporters that their “findings are indicative of a point source of infection,” he added, explaining that the leading theory being investigated was “food, drink or water poisoning.”
The fact that the cases appeared tied to one funeral further suggested that an isolated poisoning was to blame.
However, food poisoning has also been ruled out. According to Minister Dahn, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tested specimens from four patients for 29 different diseases, noting that the tests for 28 of the diseases proved negative, while the Meningitis test proved positive.
Meningitis, according to the CDC, is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. A bacterial or viral infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord usually causes the swelling. However, injuries, cancer, certain drugs, and other types of infections also can cause meningitis.
It remains unclear how the disease spread to several persons in the same location at the same time as most of the deceased were not closely related.
According to healthline.com, “most of the bacteria that cause this form of infection are spread through close personal contact, such as coughing, sneezing, and kissing. Throat secretions from an infected person (for example, phlegm or saliva) contain bacteria. When you cough or sneeze, the bacteria travel through the air.
But most of the germs that can lead to bacterial meningitis are relatively non-contagious. In fact, the bacteria that cause meningitis are less contagious than the viruses that cause the cold or flu.”
The symptoms are, however, similar to that which was observed prior to the death of victims in Sinoe County.
Dr. Dahn during Monday’s press conference said a total of 27 cases and 10 deaths have been reported from Sinoe County, while Montserrado County recorded two cases and two deaths, and Grand Bassa County reported two cases and one death.
“Liberia has never experienced Meningitis before,” Dahn said, noting that Meningitis normally affects countries that are hot and have a long dry season; such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Ethiopia and other sub-Sahara countries which usually experience Meningitis every two years or sometimes annually.
A meningitis outbreak has killed 489 people in Nigeria this year, according to the World Health Organization. The country's Center for Disease Control reported 4,637 suspected cases.
According to the WHO, even when the disease is diagnosed early and adequate treatment begins, 5% to 10% of patients die, typically within 24 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Common symptoms include stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting.
Nigeria is one of the 26 countries within the extensive region of sub-Saharan Africa known as the "meningitis belt," where large epidemics occur.
The outbreaks peak in the dry season in certain states due to the low humidity and dusty conditions and usually end as the rainy season approaches, the head of the country disease control said.
Nigeria records some of the highest incidences of the disease on the continent.