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Predicting future meningitis epidemics in Africa

New research published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives this month has announced the potential for using dust and wind conditions as predictors for meningitis outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The new work follows on from a project funded by Meningitis Research Foundation in 2003, which looked at the link between dusty, windy weather conditions and outbreaks of disease. At the time of the project, the lead researcher, Dr. Madeleine Thomson from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society in New York, said “The results of this study will tell us if we can use these data to: a) predict the size and duration or epidemics b) the geographic location of epidemics c) the likelihood of an epidemic starting and when it will end. The long term aim is to develop a forecasting system which can be used by health organisations to prevent and control epidemics.”

This latest research, conducted by Carlos Pérez García-Pando of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, Dr Thomson and others has taken them another step closer to this long term aim. “Precise predictions of epidemics cannot be solely based on climate data but our model could lead to an early-season alert to initiate strategies including increased surveillance, good vaccine stocks and prepared district health teams,” says Pérez.

Meningitis epidemics devastate communities in Africa, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, an area known as the ‘meningitis belt’. Chris Head, Chief Executive Officer at Meningitis Research Foundation said “We’re really pleased to see the follow on impacts of MRF funding. Dry, dusty winds are now accepted as a contributing factor to these epidemics, so being able to track these conditions will help to prepare countries for potential outbreaks of disease and will ultimately save lives.”


Soil dust aerosols and wind as predictors of seasonal meningitis incidence in Niger, Pérez García-Pando, C., M. Stanton, P. Diggle, S. Trzaska, R.L. Miller, J.P. Perlwitz, J.M. Baldasano, E. Cuevas, P. Ceccato, P. Yaka, and M. Thomson, Environ. Health Perspect. (2014), DOI:10.1289/ehp.1306640.

Meningitis Research Foundation