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Forecasting Meningitis and Climate Shifts

As part of the global effort to combat climate change, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued its first annual Airborne Dust Bulletin to better understand how dust and sand storms impact humans – and how humans contribute too.

While the pattern of seasonal dust storms followed by meningitis outbreaks is tragically well known, scientists haven’t always known why. A 2016 study conducted in Niger demonstrated links between airborne dust and hot temperatures, and outbreaks of bacterial meningitis.

The Sahel region of West Africa has the highest number of bacterial meningitis cases in the world, the University of Liverpool authors note. So alongside partners in Niger and Malawi, they aimed to find out why weather affects meningitis infections and outbreaks.

Climate scientists and epidemiologists working in Niamey conducted daily disease surveillance and weather monitoring over an eight-year period and found that outbreaks of bacterial meningitis occurred shortly after sandstorms and extreme high temperatures.

“Niger sits right in the middle of the meningitis belt that runs east to west across Africa just below the Sahara desert,” said Dr. Daniel Neill. “Sandstorms blowing into Niger from the Sahara kick up huge quantities of dust and sand that severely reduce visibility and significantly increase temperature.”


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