Governor Abubakar Yari of Zamfara State has decided to be as “Nigerian” as it gets by thinking that a simple (ann quite crass, if you asked us) blame-it-on-God strategy will suffice as a statement on the cause of the meningitis outbreak that is currently affecting thousands of lives across Nigerian States. The outbreak started in his State by the way where the majority of the casualties have been recorded so far- in case you are wondering why he’s the one on the spot.
But that, of course, is not okay. It does nothing to explain the situation and it in no way helps the citizenry to understand how to manage the situation. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Mr Common Sense, Murray-Bruce and even the Federal Government have tried to make him receive some sense but he clearly won’t.
[Catch up here: “God sent meningitis to punish Nigerians – Governor Yari]
So regardless of what he and Ahmed Makarfi think, there are actual explanations that will help you understand what the epidemic is and how to manage yourself at a time like this.
What is meningitis?
The term describes the condition where there’s a serious swelling of the membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord. These membranes are called the “meninges”. The “itis” after is simply the general medical term used to describe inflammation.
Meningitis presents itself outwardly in patients through fevers, headaches, the stiffness of the neck, irritability, confusion, slipping in and out of reality, inability to tolerate light or noises, and vomiting. Some types of the condition present rashes too.
Meningitis can affect people of all ages, gender and races. In children, the indications are not usually as many as in adults and they’d typically exhibit signs of irritability, poor feeding, and drowsiness.
What causes it?
Meningitis must be understood as an infection. So it is caused by viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms like parasites, amoeba or fungi when they infect the meninges. Meningitis can, however, on rare occasions, also be caused as a result of cancer, injuries or even contraindication with certain drugs.
Meningitis is classified as a medical emergency because of the proximity of the meninges to the brain and spinal cord.
The different causes of meningitis care spread differently and also treated differently.
Bacterial meningitis is highly infectious and is spread from person to person. The bacteria – Streptococcus pneumoniae, Group B Streptococcus, Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae, Listeria monocytogenes – are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if living in the same household. The different kinds of bacteria are actually spread from person to person in different ways but generally, bacterial meningitis can go from mother to child during childbirth, breathing in the bacteria from close contact with an infected person (during a sneeze or cough) or eating food prepared by persons who leave fecal remnants in their hands after using the toilet.
If you have close contact with a person who has viral meningitis, you may become infected with the virus that made the person sick. However, you are probably not likely to develop meningitis from the illness. That’s because only a small number of people who get infected with the viruses that cause meningitis will actually develop meningitis.
Fungal meningitis is rare and usually caused by fungus spreading through blood to the spinal cord. Although anyone can get fungal meningitis, people with weakened immune systems, like those with an HIV infection or cancer, are at increased risk.
The most common cause of fungal meningitis for people with weak immune systems is Cryptococcus. This disease is one of the most common causes of adult meningitis in Afric. In fact, these parts of Africa have been dubbed the African Meningitis Belt and Nigeria is one of the countries within the belt.
Other countries within the belt include Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Togo, and Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in the west coast to Eastern countries like Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The Meningitis outbreak in Nigeria right now is the Type C Neisseria Meningitides which is a type of bacterial meningitis.
If a person starts to show any of the indications of meningitis, doctors will collect samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (fluid near the spinal cord) through a lumbar puncture. A laboratory will test the samples to see what is causing the infection. Again, it is important to know the specific cause of meningitis so the doctors know how to treat it.
How to prevent the infection
For many types of meningitis, prevention is through the administration of vaccines but it does not prevent 100%, all occurrences of the infection. As is the case because Nigeria has since 1994 benefitted from the massive roll out of MenAfriVac-A, a type of vaccine that has significantly prevented the Type A Neisseria Meningitis which is the epidemic we have have been historically exposed to. It does not however work for Type C which we are currently experiecing.
In this case, antibiotics (prophylaxis) are being used as short-term preventive mesures in addition to other behavioural preventive measures such as:
- Avoiding cigarette smoke
- Getting plenty of rest
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Pregnant women should talk to their doctor or midwife about getting tested for group B Streptococcus. Women receive the test when they are 35 to 37 weeks pregnant. Doctors give antibiotics (during labor) to women who test positive in order to prevent passing group B Strep to their newborns.
The Federal Ministry of health in Nigeria has also added the following measures for specificity in Nigeria:
- Avoidance of overcrowding
- Sleep in well ventilated places
- Avoidance of close and prolonged contact with patient
- Proper disposal of respiratory and throat secretions
- Strict observance of hand hygiene and sneezing into Elbow joint/sleeves
- Reduce hand shaking, kissing, sharing utensils or medical interventions such as mouth resuscitation
There you have it! Don’t go listening to Makarfi or Yari and then start throwing tantrums against APC or praying fervently for forgiveness while being ignorant of what the real risks are.
Creative mind. Enthusiast. Learner. Multipotentialite. And here, an assistant editor.
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