Liberia’s health minister disclosed on Monday (May 8, 2017) that the deadly mystery illness that has so far claimed some thirteen lives in the West African country could be linked with meningitis after medical samples from four victims tested positive for a type of the disease.
According to Dr. Bernice Dahn, seven specimens from the deceased tested positive for Neisseria meningitis, a particularly contagious type of bacteria.
“Based on these initial results from the CDC Atlanta (U.S. Center for Disease Control), we believe that we are dealing with a probable outbreak of meningitis in Sinoe, which spread to Montserrado and Grand Bassa counties,” she added, she also reiterated calls for calm over the situation.
Based on these initial results from the CDC Atlanta (U.S. Center for Disease Control), we believe that we are dealing with a probable outbreak of meningitis in Sinoe, which spread to Montserrado and Grand Bassa counties.
The authorities are, however, investigating options for mass vaccinations against the illness, characterized by swelling of the membranes in the brain and spinal cord. Further laboratory analysis is under way.
Meningitis is an infections disease characterized by inflammation of the meninges (the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord). It is usually caused by a bacterial infection, symptoms include headache, stiff neck, fever and nausea.
So far a total of 31 cases of the supposed mystery illness has been reported, including 13 deaths in an outbreak linked to the attendance of a religious leader’s funeral. Liberia’s chief medical officer, Dr. Francis Kateh, confirmed to the BBC two weeks ago that the deaths were not Ebola-related from initial test results.
Even though the symptoms of the disease were markedly different from that of the deadly Ebola virus, the sudden deaths sparked fears of a return of the disease which paralyzed the country in 2013.
Liberia was declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June 2016. When Ebola broke out in 2014 it killed an estimated 5,000 people and almost shut down the country.
Liberia was the last West African country at the epicentre of the world’s worst outbreak of the disease. Neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone also suffered from the outbreak.
Traces of Ebola can hide in survivors’ bodies long after they have recovered, but health experts say the risk of Ebola re-emerging and being transmitted to others is extremely low. Despite that, there is a great deal of stigma around survivors of the virus in West Africa.