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Preparing for Ghana’s hot season and the possibility of a meningitis outbreak

February 2024 has been unusually hot around Ghana, with temperatures rising to 42° Celsius. In response, the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet) recently published a couple of press releases predicting that March and April will be adversely hot.

According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), people with chronic respiratory conditions may suffer acute attacks or worsening of their conditions due to the advisory from the GMS. 

Risks associated with increased heat

According to reports, increased dryness may predispose people, especially children and the elderly, to dehydration, respiratory illnesses, and meningitis. Though there is no present outbreak of meningitis in the country, the dry and hot weather conditions are expected to expose people to an increased risk of meningitis, especially in the northern part of the country.

To minimise the effects of the harsh weather conditions, the GHS has recommended that people put the following precautionary measures in place to prevent themselves from experiencing some health hazards that come with the high temperature shared and will be experienced in the next two months around the country.

These measures include:

  1. Wearing a nose mask to prevent inhaling dust.
  2. Limiting outdoor activities, especially for children and the elderly.
  3. Drinking enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
  4. People with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma are advised to take prescribed medications seriously.

The GHS further urged the public to observe these recommendations during this hot weather season and report to the nearest health facility when breathing difficult. In a press release published on the GHS X (formerly Twitter) page signed by its director general, Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, it affirms that treatments for these conditions are available, including meningitis, and therefore, anyone experiencing fever and stiffness of the neck should report immediately to the nearest health facility.

Image: Press Release by GHS

In the press release, the Ghana Health Service assured that it is working diligently to promptly identify and respond to any potential outbreaks during these harsh weather conditions.

What is meningitis, what are the symptoms, and how can it be prevented?

Meningitis remains a significant global public health challenge. According to the World Health Organization, meningitis is the inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by infection. It can be fatal and requires immediate medical care. It is a devastating disease with a high case fatality rate, which can lead to serious long-term complications (sequelae).

Image source: momjunction.com

According to research, there is an argued connection between heat and meningitis. Meningitis.org has stated that outbreaks are linked to high temperatures and airborne dust, and epidemics are more common in sub-Saharan Africa than in other parts of the world.

Some prominent symptoms include neck stiffness, fever, confusion or altered mental status, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Although meningitis is a medical emergency and potentially fatal, some vaccines and treatments exist, depending on its variant type. 

According to Dr Thompson Boakye Frimpong, a Medical officer at the Ho Municipal Hospital, meningitis can happen in both hot and cold temperatures but is more prevalent in hot temperatures because the bacteria that transmits it thrives well in hot temperatures.

He further explained that the bacteria is transmitted through air droplets and can cause damage to the respiratory tract when we breathe in hot air. It then lodges in the damaged tracts, grows there, replicates itself, and gets transmitted into the brain through the blood cell, which afterward manifests itself.

Conclusion

There is a possibility of increased cases of respiratory illness, especially meningitis, due to the forecasted temperature increments in the coming months. The necessary precautions must be followed to reduce the possibility of occurrences in the country.

This report was produced under the DUBAWA Non-urban Journalists Mentorship project aimed at promoting a culture of truth and verification in non-urban newsrooms in Ghana with support from the US Embassy in Ghana.

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