The Role of Weather in Meningitis Outbreaks in Navrongo, Ghana: A Generalized Additive Modeling Approach

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Abstract

Bacterial (meningococcal) meningitis is a devastating infectious disease with outbreaks occurring annually during the dry season in locations within the ‘Meningitis Belt’, a region in sub-Saharan Africa stretching from Ethiopia to Senegal. Meningococcal meningitis occurs from December to May in the Sahel with large epidemics every 5–10 years and attack rates of up to 1000 infections per 100,000 people. High temperatures coupled with low humidity may favor the conversion of carriage to disease as the meningococcal bacteria in the nose and throat are better able to cross the mucosal membranes into the blood stream. Similarly, respiratory diseases such as influenza and pneumonia might weaken the immune defenses and add to the mucosa damage. Although the transmission dynamics are poorly understood, outbreaks regularly end with the onset of the rainy season and may begin anew with the following dry season. In this paper, we employ a generalized additive modeling approach to assess the association between number of reported meningitis cases and a set of weather variables (relative humidity, rain, wind, sunshine, maximum and minimum temperature). The association is adjusted for air quality (dust, carbon monoxide), as well as varying degrees of unobserved time-varying confounding processes that co-vary with both the disease incidence and weather. We present the analysis of monthly reported meningitis counts in Navrongo, Ghana, from 1998–2008.

Mary Hayden joint first authorship.