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UCAR weather forecasts aim to reduce African meningitis epidemics
Date:11/19/2008

stretches across the continent from Senegal to Ethiopia. The disease affects the meninges, the thin linings that surround the brain and spinal cord, and is often fatal. In Africa, more than 250,000 people fell ill and 25,000 died in 1996 and 1997 in the world's largest recorded outbreak of epidemic meningitis.

The epidemics usually end with the onset of the summer rainy season. Researchers are uncertain why dry and dusty conditions are correlated with the disease. Some theorize that it may have to do with the mucous linings in people's respiratory systems becoming irritated by the dusty conditions. Others suspect changes in social behavior: residents tend to stay indoors during the dusty season, facilitating the spread of the disease.

Health clinics in the meningitis belt are planning to turn to a new vaccine, known as conjugate A, to try to reduce disease transmission. But they are limited by the number of vaccines that have been manufactured and the logistical difficulties in trying to reach populations in remote areas. The weather forecasts will enable them to focus on regions that are most at risk while pulling back from areas that are about to get rain.

"Working closely with both the meteorologists and local public health officials will allow us to more effectively target vaccines to at-risk populations in areas with limited resources," says Mary Hayden, a medical anthropologist at NCAR.

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Over the next year, the project leaders will focus on Ghana, a country hard-hit by meningitis outbreaks in the past and one where UCAR has contacts in the meteorological and public health communities. They will seek input from local officials in designing the forecasts to be as useful as possible in vulnerable areas.

NCAR meteorologists will begin issuing 14-day forecasts of atmospheric conditions in Ghana in 2009 by analyzing computer models run by such agencies as the European Centre
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Contact: David Hosansky
hosansky@ucar.edu
303-497-8611
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Source:Eurekalert

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