A strain of meningitis in January claimed 124 lives in Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, according to a report issued Thursday by the Burkinabe health ministry.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned at the end of December that 14 African countries, including Burkina, were facing an epidemic of cerebrospinal meningitis "that could be the worst of the last 10 years."
Advertisement"We are not in an epidemic situation. But at the fourth week in January we have reached 774 cases sadly with 124 deaths," health spokesman Rene Sebgo told AFP.
An illness reaches epidemic proportions when there are at least 10 cases for every 100,000 people and an alert situation occurs when there are five cases for every 100,000.
"The first signs of an epidemic could appear in February-March 2008," the Red Cross warned in December.
Meningitis is very contagious and initial symptoms include a quickly rising temperature, violent headaches, vomiting and neck stiffness.
Burkina Faso is -- along with Mali, Niger and Nigeria -- one of the West African countries with the most "worrying reoccurrence of meningitis cases" since the end of 2007, indicated the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which published the death toll.
"Numerous other suspect cases were reported in other countries in the region," said OCHA, though it did not cite any, it reminded that 18 sub-Saharan countries were particularly exposed to the meningitis epidemic during the dry season.