Geneva - An outbreak of meningitis with "unprecedented features" was spreading rapidly in Niger, with a tripling of cases in the past two weeks, hundreds of deaths so far this year and vaccines in short supply, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.
The outbreak is predominantly caused by serogroup C, which is normally found in wealthy countries and has never been of high concern in Africa, where it has been seen only in sporadic cases and localised outbreaks, the UN health agency said.
Vaccines against this form of the disease were in short supply and the outbreak was of particular concern because it was affecting more than one million people in densely populated urban areas including the capital, Niamey, its website said.
There were 6 179 suspected cases and 423 deaths reported between 1 January and 12 May, including 4 099 in Niamey, where 226 people have died, the statement said.
Meningitis is common across the "meningitis belt" from Senegal to Ethiopia in the dry season between December and June. A 2009 outbreak caused more than 80 000 cases, and more than 200 000 cases, including 20 000 deaths, in 1996-1997, WHO said.
Most of those cases were caused by serogroup A meningitis.