Web Zap*Germs Archive

May 12, 2005

Satellites Monitor African Dust Storms Linked To Meningitis

Medical researchers are using satellite imagery of African dust storms to help them understand how conditions develop for the outbreak of meningitis epidemics. The study is part of the European Space Agency's Epidemio project [follow the link & click on the small satellite photos to see interesting enlargements].

The researchers believe that the dust doesn't actually spread the meningitis bacteria throughout Africa, but that the storms create favorable conditions for infections to occur. (I am perplexed by this denial of the spread of the disease by the dust, as African dust storms certainly do spread bacteria as far as North America.)
Researchers want to study the hypothesis that the Sahel dry season – when wind-blown dust of talcum-powder-consistency can fill the arid air – makes the 300 million inhabitants of this region much more vulnerable to meningitis infection.

The source of infection is other people: up to a quarter of the people may be carrying the source of the meningocuccus bacteria without symptoms, spreading the infection through overcrowded living conditions by droplets from coughing or throat secretions. Normally meningococcus dwells harmlessly in the nose and throat – it is only when it gets into the bloodstream it becomes a potential killer.


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