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What is meningitis?

posted Apr 24, 2012, 3:17 AM by Marylene, MICHELET
Dear Parents,

As some of you may be aware, there have been cases of meningitis reported in regions of Senegal, particularly Diourbel, Fatick, Kaolack, and Thies. Senegal is part of the “meningitis belt” stretching across Sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia. Due to these incidences as well as in observation of World Meningitis Day on April 24th, I wanted to provide some background information as well as recommendations about meningitis.

What is meningitis?
  • An infectious disease causing swelling or inflammation of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. 
  • Meningitis can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms. Most forms of viral meningitis are treated without antibiotics. However, viral and bacterial meningitis can present with similar symptoms. 
  • Meningococcal meningitis is a severe form of meningitis occurring in Senegal caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitides. It is associated with a high mortality rate and persistent neurological deficits, particularly among children. 
  • Meningococcal meningitis most commonly affects individuals between 3 years to adolescents. 
  • Approximately 5-10% of adults are asymptomatic carriers of the disease. 
What are the signs and symptoms?
  • Fever (may be associated with a rash) 
  • Headache 
  • Nausea 
  • Stiff neck or pain/discomfort when touching chin to chest 
  • Photophobia (discomfort when looking into bright lights) 
  • Irritability 
  • Confusion, drowsiness 
  • Seizures 
  • Coma 

What are the incubation and contagious periods? 
  • For meningococcus:   Incubation – less than 4 days 
                                           Contagious period – until after 24 hours of antibiotics

How is it spread?
  • Direct contact with respiratory or nasal secretions 

How do you control it?
  • Routine infection control measures; hand washing 
  • Antibiotic prophylaxis may be indicated for close contacts 
  • Immunizations – current vaccines available include: a bivalent meningococcal vaccine for strains A & C and a quadrivalent vaccine for strains A, C, Y, W-135 

Where is the vaccination available?
  • Service regional de l’hygiene de Dakar: 33 821 89 90 
  • Pharmacie Guigon: 33 823 03 33 (quadrivalent vaccines may need to be ordered ahead of time)

What should I do if I suspect my child has meningitis? 
  • Contact your healthcare provider IMMEDIATELY. Bacterial meningitis is considered a medical emergency. Morbidity/mortality is linked to delays in treatment.

When can my child return to school?
  • Once your child is cleared by a medical professional (note required) 

I strongly recommend making sure your child is up-to-date with the meningitis vaccine as well as other ALL other available immunizations. Not only will vaccines protect your child, they will also prevent the spread of disease to others and protect those (infants) too young to receive certain vaccinations.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions.


Katie Morgan
School Nurse

International School of Dakar