New meningitis strain arrives

A new strain of meningitis, strain NMX, also known simply as strain 'X', has broken out in Burkina Faso, where it caused just over half the new cases reported in the past week. Six of Burkina Faso's 13 regions are at epidemic level.

Since the beginning of 2010, 5,118 cases of meningitis have been reported and 718 people have died according to the health ministry. Health Minister Seydou Bouda told reporters at a press conference on 22 April that strain X was not "well-known in Burkina".

Meningitis – transmitted by nose and throat secretions – usually spreads across sub-Saharan West Africa in the dry months from December to June. 

Ten cases of the strain have been reported in Niger according to Dr Mamadou Djingarey, a World Health Organization (WHO) official in the capital, Ouagadougou. Niger experienced an epidemic of strain X in 2006.

Strain X is "no more worrying than other meningitis strains", the official told IRIN; strain A is the most lethal of the 12 meningitis strains, according to WHO.

Strain X has been reported in 14 of Burkina Faso's 65 districts. Bouda said the symptoms of the new strain were the same as other strains - sudden fever, headache, and vomiting - while children less than one year old might experience swelling in their head.

Across West Africa, some 14,700 meningitis cases and 1,650 deaths were reported between 1 January and 11 April 2010, according to the most recent WHO statistics available. This is not as critical as the same period in 2009, when 49,209 people were infected in an outbreak that killed 2,767.

Affected countries this year include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.