Meningitis: the number of cases explodes in France after the Covid-19 epidemic, what you need to know about symptoms and vaccination

The Pasteur Institute warns. Meningococcal meningitis, potentially fatal, is experiencing “an unprecedented resurgence” following the cessation of health measures taken during the Covid-19 epidemic.

By monitoring the evolution of meningococcal meningitis cases in France between 2015 and 2022, the Pasteur Institute highlighted an “unprecedented resurgence of the disease following the cessation of the health measures implemented during the Covid epidemic -19.” A situation that mainly affects 16-24 year olds.

Meningococcal meningitis is an infection of the thin membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is transmitted “by droplets of secretion from the respiratory tract or pharynx,” the World Health Organization describes. Close contact through kissing, sneezing, coughing or promiscuity with an infected person promotes the spread of the disease.

Thus, during the Covid-19 epidemic, barrier gestures such as wearing a mask and physical distancing had positive effects on meningococcal meningitis, with the number of infections falling by more than 75% in 2020 and 2021.

But with the abandonment of these barrier gestures, the disease “has experienced an unprecedented resurgence in the fall of 2022, with today (…) a number of cases higher than in the period preceding the Covid-19 pandemic,” explains Samy Taha, researcher in the Division of Invasive Bacterial Infections at the Pasteur Institute. If 298 cases were registered between January and September 2019, 421 infections have already been registered between January and September 2023… even though the winter peak has not yet occurred.

Two virulent strains

Regarding meningococcal meningitis, 12 serogroups have been listed. “Those in groups W and Y appeared much more numerous than the others after the pandemic,” illustrates Ala-Eddine Deghmane from the National Meningococcal Reference Center of the Pasteur Institute. In other words, the meningococcal bacterial strains responsible for meningitis today are no longer the same as the strains that circulated before the pandemic. “And if all age categories are affected, it appears that young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are most affected by this new wave of meningitis.”

“This resurgence of meningitis could increase in the coming months due to the seasonal flu epidemic,” the Pasteur Institute warns. “In fact, the influenza virus creates a favorable context for the development of meningococcal bacteria.”

Without treatment 100% fatal

As explained by Muhamed-Kheir Taha, Head of the Invasive Bacterial Infections Unit and the National Reference Center for Meningococci at the Pasteur Institute, “we must remember that without treatment, bacterial meningitis is almost 100% fatal. remains 10%.”

What type of vaccination?

It is therefore urgent to remember that there is a tetravalent vaccine that targets the meningococci of groups A, C, Y and W. If this “were recommended for adolescents, it would protect them directly, but also indirectly other categories of the population,” de Pasteur concludes. Institute.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

– Intense and violent headache,
– Sudden intolerance to light (photophobia) and not calmed by traditional painkillers,
– Fever (often above 38°C),
– Stiffness in the neck,
– Vomiting and abdominal pain,
– Cold limbs (hands, feet),
– Pain in the legs,

To note : Meningococci are bacteria that normally live in the throat and nose of many people. Usually they do not cause any specific disease, but in certain cases they can cause very serious diseases, such as meningitis.

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