Climate Drives the Meningitis Epidemics Onset in West Africa
<!-- end title area --><!-- start authors -->Benjamin Sultan<SUP>1</SUP><SUP>*</SUP>, Karima Labadi<SUP>2</SUP>, Jean-François Guégan<SUP>3</SUP>, Serge Janicot<SUP>1</SUP>
<!-- end authors --><!-- start affiliations -->1 IRD–Laboratoire d'Océanographie Dynamique et du Climat (LODYC)–UMR 7617 (CNRS/IRD/P6/MNHN)–Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, 2 Université de Paris 7 Denis Diderot UFR GHSS (c.c. 7001) Dynamique des Milieux et Risques–2, Paris, France, 3 IRD–GEMI-UMR 2724 IRD-CNRS, Evolution des Systèmes Symbiotiques, Montpellier, France
<!-- end affiliations --><!-- start: abstract -->
Background Every year West African countries within the Sahelo-Sudanian band are afflicted with major meningococcal meningitis (MCM) disease outbreaks, which affect up to 200,000 people, mainly young children, in one of the world's poorest regions. The timing of the epidemic year, which starts in February and ends in late May, and the spatial distribution of disease cases throughout the “Meningitis Belt” strongly indicate a close linkage between the life cycle of the causative agent of MCM and climate variability. However, mechanisms responsible for the observed patterns are still not clearly identified.
Methods and Findings By comparing the information on cases and deaths of MCM from World Health Organization weekly reports with atmospheric datasets, we quantified the relationship between the seasonal occurrence of MCM in Mali, a West African country, and large-scale atmospheric circulation. Regional atmospheric indexes based on surface wind speed show a clear link between population dynamics of the disease and climate: the onset of epidemics and the winter maximum defined by the atmospheric index share the same mean week (sixth week of the year; standard deviation, 2 wk) and are highly correlated.
Conclusions This study is the first that provides a clear, quantitative demonstration of the connections that exist between MCM epidemics and regional climate variability in Africa. Moreover, this statistically robust explanation of the MCM dynamics enables the development of an Early Warning Index for meningitis epidemic onset in West Africa. The development of such an index will undoubtedly help nationwide and international public health institutions and policy makers to better control MCM disease within the so-called westward–eastward pan-African Meningitis Belt.
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