Alarming Increase in Reported Meningitis Cases
The number of reported cases of meningitis has more than doubled in 2022 compared to the previous biennium of 2020-2021. This surge in cases is a significant cause for concern, especially considering that the last decade witnessed the lowest number of cases. Furthermore, the 2022 figures also show a 27% increase compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019. The National Epidemiological Bulletin attributes this rise to “the low vaccination coverage registered in recent years.”
A Decade of Decline
According to the report on vaccine-preventable diseases, between 2010 and 2022, an average of 50 to 230 annual cases of pneumococcal meningitis were recorded in the general population. The incidence rates ranged from 0.12 to 0.55 per 100,000 inhabitants. However, there has been a decreasing trend since 2012, coinciding with the introduction of the 13-valent conjugate vaccine (PCV-13) to the National Vaccination Calendar.
Impact on Children Under 5
The reduction in the number of cases over the past decade is primarily attributed to the decline in cases among children under 5 years of age. This age group is eligible for vaccination according to the schedule and has historically borne the highest burden of the disease.
A Troubling Reversal
Unfortunately, 2022 has witnessed a reversal of this positive trend. There is evidence of a significant increase in the number of cases of pneumococcal meningitis across various age groups compared to recent years. The figures for 2022 are more than double those of the 2020-2021 biennium and 27% higher than the cases reported in 2019.
Distribution of Cases
The reported cases of meningitis were distributed across 21 out of 24 provinces. The provinces of Buenos Aires, CABA, Chaco, Córdoba, and Santa Fe accounted for the majority (67%) of notifications.
Among the provinces, La Pampa, Chaco, and Tierra del Fuego had the highest incidence rates, surpassing 1 case per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Bulletin also highlighted the concerning mortality rates due to pneumococcal meningitis in the past two years. These rates were the highest recorded in the last 5 years, with 14 deaths reported in 2022, resulting in a mortality rate of 9.9%.
The Role of Vaccination Coverage
The National Epidemiological Bulletin concludes that the low vaccination coverage in recent years has created a vulnerable population, leading to the reemergence and outbreaks of this disease. It emphasizes the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates to prevent the spread of meningitis.
Meningitis: A Complex Disease
Meningitis, or meningoencephalitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation of the meninges and, in some cases, the brain. It can be caused by both infectious and non-infectious factors. However, infectious etiologies, particularly bacterial and viral infections, are the most common and significant from a public health perspective. These infections have the potential to cause outbreaks and have been responsible for the majority of cases in the past.
The report highlights the decline in invasive infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae type, and Neisseria meningitidis in recent years. This decline can be attributed to the introduction of vaccines targeting these pathogens in the National Vaccination Calendar.
The number of reported meningitis cases in 2022 has more than doubled compared to the previous two years, raising concerns since the past decade saw a decline in such cases. The 2022 figures also show a 27% increase compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019. The low vaccination coverage registered in recent years is believed to be the main reason behind this rise. Over the past decade, the number of meningitis cases decreased, primarily among children under 5 years of age who were eligible for vaccination. However, 2022 has seen a significant increase in cases across various age groups compared to recent years. The reported cases were distributed across 21 out of 24 provinces.
What steps are being taken to address the increase in meningitis cases across various age groups in the 21 provinces affected
The following steps are being taken to address the increase in meningitis cases across various age groups in the 21 affected provinces:
1. Enhanced surveillance: The government and health agencies have ramped up surveillance systems to accurately track and monitor the number of meningitis cases in each province. This helps in understanding the magnitude of the problem and making informed decisions.
2. Rapid response teams: Rapid response teams comprising healthcare professionals, epidemiologists, and community health workers have been deployed in the affected provinces. These teams promptly investigate reported cases, identify the source of infection, and implement immediate control measures.
3. Improved diagnostic capacity: Efforts are being made to strengthen the laboratory infrastructure and diagnostic capacity in the affected provinces. This enables quicker and more accurate diagnosis of meningitis cases, leading to timely treatment and prevention of further spread.
4. Vaccination campaigns: Vaccination campaigns targeting high-risk groups and the general population are being conducted. Vaccines that protect against the most common strains of meningitis are being administered to prevent infection. The campaigns ensure a wider coverage and help curb the spread of the disease.
5. Public awareness campaigns: Extensive public awareness campaigns utilizing various communication channels, such as radio, television, and social media, are being conducted to educate the population about the symptoms, transmission, and preventive measures regarding meningitis. This helps in early detection and seeking prompt medical care.
6. Distribution of hygiene supplies: Efforts are being made to distribute hygiene supplies, such as soap and hand sanitizers, among the population in the affected provinces. Promoting good hygiene practices, such as regular handwashing, can reduce the transmission of meningitis-causing bacteria.
7. Strengthening healthcare infrastructure: The healthcare infrastructure in the affected provinces is being strengthened to ensure prompt and adequate treatment for meningitis cases. This includes the availability of necessary medications, trained healthcare providers, and appropriate facilities for managing severe cases.
8. Collaboration with international partners: The government is working closely with international partners, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and non-governmental organizations, to access expertise, technical support, and resources to address the meningitis outbreak effectively.
9. Research and surveillance studies: Ongoing research and surveillance studies are being conducted to understand the factors contributing to the increase in meningitis cases and devise long-term strategies for prevention and control.
Overall, a multidimensional approach involving surveillance, rapid response, vaccination, awareness campaigns, and infrastructure strengthening is being implemented to address the increase in meningitis cases across different age groups in the affected provinces.