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Dr Dennis Odai Laryea, Deputy Director, Surveillance, GHS
Dr Dennis Odai Laryea, Deputy Director, Surveillance, GHS

Health alert! High risk meningitis period - Report sore throat headache, fever, bodily pains

Sore throat, headache, fever, general bodily pains and others are symptoms of meningitis which has a higher risk during the dry season.

The public are therefore required to report to the nearest facility if they experience any of the above symptoms.

This is to ensure early diagnosis of possible cases of meningitis for appropriate and early treatment.

The Deputy Director in charge of Surveillance at the Ghana Health Service, Dr Dennis Odai Laryea, said the current dry season in the country had increased the risk of meningitis, adding that if the country continued to experience a prolonged harmattan season, it would increase the risk of people suffering the condition.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic, Dr Laryea said the condition might start with a simple sore throat but could get worse and might be too late if people waited to see more advanced symptoms such as neck stiffness before seeking proper health care.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in six persons that contract bacterial meningitis die, while one in five persons who contract meningitis, which is about 20 per cent, are left with long-lasting disability.

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“It’s a disease that can kill.

So, it is not a disease that should be taken lightly,” Dr Laryea said.

“Some lose their hearing because of meningitis.

You can get severe complications, so if you start getting fever, sore throat, headache, have some difficulty looking at light, and neck stiffness, report to the nearest health facility and be attended to,” he advised.

Meningitis

Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges of the brain.

It is caused by different organisms, including viruses, fungi and bacteria, but Dr Laryea said for Ghana, the concern was in the bacterial meningitis because that could occur in outbreaks and affect a lot of people.

The last time the country recorded a major meningitis outbreak was in 2015.

Those with the highest risk of contracting meningitis are children under five years, adults over 65 years, and those who have suppressed immune systems due to infections or some medications they are taking.

The commonest means of transmission of the bacterial causative agents is through coughing and sneezing.

Treatment

Dr Laryea, who is also a senior public health specialist, said if detected early, meningitis could be treated, explaining that in the case of meningitis caused by bacteria infection, there were strong antibiotics that could treat it.

He, however, sounded the warning that if some damage had already been done to the brain, then only the infection could be treated, and one would have to live with the damage.

Prevalence

In 2023, Dr Laryea said, 12 deaths due to suspected meningitis were recorded in the country.

This was out of a total of 321 suspected cases reported across the 16 regions of the country.

Of the 321 suspected cases, eight were confirmed by laboratory test to be meningitis.

The Upper West Region had the highest number of reported cases in 2023.

For 2022, out of the 502 suspected cases reported across the country, 11 died, and out of the 487 suspected cases tested in laboratories for meningitis in that year, 28 were confirmed to be positive.

Dr Laryea said meningitis did not appear to be a scary case, considering the number of cases the country was recording, but stressed that it was still a problem, given that many people could die from meningitis.

Dry season

The GHS official said people were predisposed to contract meningitis in the dry season because some of the organisms that caused the condition already lived on their bodies or in their throats, even though they might not cause illness at that point.

He explained that the dry season provided a good opportunity for the bacteria to enter the blood stream, and from there enter the brain and cause the meningitis.

“That is one of the reasons why meningitis is relatively more common during the dry season than in the rainy season,” he said.

“The brain is supposed to be sterile.

No organism is supposed to get anywhere in the brain,” he added.

He explained that although cases of the disease had been recorded across the country, the northern parts from areas around the Bono East Region recorded high numbers because they fell within the African meningitis belt and also because of the kind of weather they experienced, especially during the dry season.

Vaccine availability

On availability of vaccines to protect people from the disease, Dr Laryea said because the risk of the disease is high in childhood, the pneumococcal vaccine had been added to the country’s routine immunisation programme, so children received the pneumococcal vaccine to protect them from pneumonia, meningitis and other infections caused by those organisms.

Additionally, he said, they were also given the meningococcal vaccine A (Men A) as part of the routine vaccination.

He said there was no routine vaccination for adults, but in outbreak situations, they would receive reactive vaccination depending on the organism they were dealing with.

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