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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Meningitis outbreak strikes India
Meningitis patient in hospital
A patient is treated in a Delhi hospital
A total of 15 people have died of bacterial meningitis in the Indian capital, Delhi, officials say.

Another 86 people have contracted the disease, prompting the government to issue an alert about the disease to communities and hospitals.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain lining, or meninges, which can cause serious disability or death.

An outbreak of the disease killed 800 people in India nearly two decades ago. Of these 70 people died in Delhi.

The patients in Delhi are suffering from meningococcal meningitis, caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis.

The disease can be transmitted through coughing, sneezing and intimate kissing.

The symptoms of meningococcal infection can include severe headache, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, joint pain and drowsiness or disorientation.


The Delhi health minister Yoganand Shastri told reporters that seven meningitis deaths were reported on Thursday alone.

He said an epidemic had still not been declared as the government was taking steps to prevent it from spreading.

Delhi crowd
Authorities say the disease has broken out mostly in crowded areas
Mr Shastri said a majority of the cases were being reported from the capital's crowded old city.

"If need be, we will also use loudspeakers to inform people that the bacteria spreads through nasal drops in congested areas and they should stay away from crowded places," he told The Hindu newspaper.

He also admitted to a shortage of vaccines to protect against pneumococcal disease, and said the companies manufacturing them had been asked for more supplies.

India's Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told the parliament that there was "no cause for alarm" and that eforts were underway to check any further spread of the disease.

Meningitis is usually caused by either bacteria or a virus.

Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial but is rarely life-threatening.

Meningitis caused by bacteria tends to be more serious.

Broadly, there are two types of bacterial disease: meningococcal and pneumococcal. Vaccines exist for both.

Most cases of meningococcal meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but it is important to catch the disease early.

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