South Africa meningitis outbreak prompts debates about vaccines, class choice

An outbreak of meningitis in nine children hospitalized at a South African school has inspired international media attention and debates over the effectiveness of school-based vaccinations. Last week, South Africa’s Education Department announced that…

South Africa meningitis outbreak prompts debates about vaccines, class choice

An outbreak of meningitis in nine children hospitalized at a South African school has inspired international media attention and debates over the effectiveness of school-based vaccinations.

Last week, South Africa’s Education Department announced that the nine children at Stormont Primary School in Cape Town had been hospitalized with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The disease has since spread to several more children, with two dead so far, and 27 in serious condition.

The disease has a mortality rate of 50 percent, but it can be treated, Dr. Andrew Berry, the chief medical officer for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, said during a news conference Monday, according to The Associated Press.

The educational reasons for vaccinating children are murkier. With school starting on Monday, there was little information available about the outbreak’s origins. Robert Cherry, a vice-principal at the school, said children had been vaccinated with meningococcal vaccines during their midyear enrollment in February, according to media reports. Officials have been searching for the origin of the outbreak.

The World Health Organization doesn’t recommend vaccination against disease outbreaks in children under age 18, according to a press release from the organization. The South African Health Ministry has said that they are currently investigating the disease.

The advisory released by the WHO in 2001 recommends that boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 15 in high-risk, rural and remote areas be vaccinated with meningococcal serogroup B vaccines starting at age 11. The vaccine protects the body against a variety of infections, from infections with bacteria to illnesses with viruses and fungi.

The advisory recommends that if you are between the ages of 12 and 15 in high-risk, rural or remote areas, it may be better to get vaccinated with meningococcal serogroup B vaccination to avoid outbreaks later in life, and to find your way from country to country. “Recent outbreaks of meningococcal disease in other countries and high rates of resistance to vaccines for this disease also make vaccination with serogroup B of vaccine-preventable meningococcal disease important for the general population,” the advisory says.

The disease’s symptoms can vary. The disease can cause headaches, stiff necks, stiff limbs, fever, chills, rash, stiff neck, seizures, impaired vision, and a swelling of the brain called meningitis, according to Dr. Waldemar Bennartz, a respiratory specialist in Stormont Primary School, according to an AP report.

The cases were linked to the school through an outbreak report filed with the province’s health department, the AP reported. The school has been closed.

But Bird said there has been an ongoing problem of the disease spreading in the Cape Town community and that it needs to be taken seriously.

“So long as we don’t understand why we are experiencing these problems, we will continue to have this outbreak every year,” he said, according to the AP.

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