Researchers are analysing dust from the Sahel to study its role in the spread of bacterial meningitis in this region hardest hit by the debilitating and often fatal disease.
Study of the link between climate and infectious diseases is increasingly important as environmental changes appear to be pushing the so-called meningitis belt – from Ethiopia to Senegal – southwards, experts say.
Researchers with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University, which looks at how climate information can be incorporated into preventive measures or early warning systems, are collecting dust samples in Ghana, Niger and Senegal in the study’s initial phase.
In the meningitis belt meningococcal meningitis outbreaks come with the dry season and taper off with the first rains, and dust has long been seen as contributing to the spread. Experts say mineral dust could be irritating membranes making people vulnerable to infection, or in other ways favour the spread of the bacteria.