UCAR weather forecasts aim to reduce African meningitis epidemics

November 19, 2008

BOULDER--The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), working with an international team of health and weather organizations, is launching a project this month to provide long-term weather forecasts to medical officials in Africa to help reduce outbreaks of meningitis. The forecasts will enable local health providers to target vaccination programs more effectively for this deadly disease, which is correlated with dry and dusty conditions.

"We're applying our expertise in weather forecasting to assist health care officials on the front lines of this disease," says Rajul Pandya, director of UCAR's Community Building Program. "By targeting forecasts in regions where meningitis is a threat, we may be able to help vulnerable populations. Ultimately, we hope to build on this project and provide information to public health programs battling weather-related diseases in other parts of the world."

Funding for the project comes from a $900,000 grant from Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Internet search company. The award is part of the Google.org Predict and Prevent program, which aims to help map "hot spots" of emerging infectious diseases around the world. The project draws on forecasting and health experts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which is managed by UCAR.

UCAR is working with a number of organizations on the initiative, including leading African health and weather centers and Meningitis Environmental Risk Information Technologies, a consortium of climate and health institutions under the auspices of the World Health Organization. Other partners include the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, North Carolina State University, and the World Meteorological Organization.

-----Africa's meningitis belt -----

Epidemics of bacterial meningitis break out periodically across sub-Saharan Africa's so-called meningitis belt, which stretches across the continent from Senegal to Ethiopia. The disease affects the meninges, the thin linings that surround the brain and spinal cord, and is often fatal. In Africa, more than 250,000 people fell ill and 25,000 died in 1996 and 1997 in the world's largest recorded outbreak of epidemic meningitis.

The epidemics usually end with the onset of the summer rainy season. Researchers are uncertain why dry and dusty conditions are correlated with the disease. Some theorize that it may have to do with the mucous linings in people's respiratory systems becoming irritated by the dusty conditions. Others suspect changes in social behavior: residents tend to stay indoors during the dusty season, facilitating the spread of the disease.

Health clinics in the meningitis belt are planning to turn to a new vaccine, known as conjugate A, to try to reduce disease transmission. But they are limited by the number of vaccines that have been manufactured and the logistical difficulties in trying to reach populations in remote areas. The weather forecasts will enable them to focus on regions that are most at risk while pulling back from areas that are about to get rain.

"Working closely with both the meteorologists and local public health officials will allow us to more effectively target vaccines to at-risk populations in areas with limited resources," says Mary Hayden, a medical anthropologist at NCAR.

-----Predicting the rain -----

Over the next year, the project leaders will focus on Ghana, a country hard-hit by meningitis outbreaks in the past and one where UCAR has contacts in the meteorological and public health communities. They will seek input from local officials in designing the forecasts to be as useful as possible in vulnerable areas.

NCAR meteorologists will begin issuing 14-day forecasts of atmospheric conditions in Ghana in 2009 by analyzing computer models run by such agencies as the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction. To make reliable predictions, they will use statistical techniques to zero in on the meningitis belt, giving greater weight to models that generate the most accurate forecasts under specific conditions. The forecasters will also look at upper-atmospheric patterns that could indicate the impending start to the rainy season.

During the subsequent two years, UCAR plans to work closely with health experts from several African countries to design and test a decision support system that will provide health officials with useful meteorological information. One of the biggest challenges will be to disseminate the forecasts to health officials on the ground.

"We can certainly generate forecasts using the latest technologies, but the goal is to get that information to the people who need it in time for them to use it," Pandya says. "If we can make that happen, this system has significant potential to save lives."
-end-
The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research is a consortium of more than 70 universities offering Ph.D.s in the atmospheric and related sciences. UCAR manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Related Meningitis Articles from Brightsurf:

Complications of measles can include hepatitis, appendicitis, and viral meningitis, doctors warn
The complications of measles can be many and varied, and more serious than people might realise, doctors have warned in the journal BMJ Case Reports after treating a series of adults with the infection.

Pneumococcal vaccines are effective -- But new strategies needed to reduce meningitis
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCVs) have been highly effective in reducing pneumonia and other invasive infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.

New research uncovers improvements in vaccines against meningitis
New research from experts at the University of Nottingham could lead to an improved vaccine to protect against the bacterium, Neisseria meningitides that causes sepsis and meningitis.

Current treatment for fungal meningitis is fueling drug resistance
A common first-line treatment approach for cryptococcal meningitis in low-income countries is being compromised by the emergence of drug resistance, new University of Liverpool research warns.

An improved vaccine for bacterial meningitis and bloodstream infections
Researchers have now developed a new vaccine, a native outer membrane vesicle (NOMV) vaccine, for meningitis and bloodstream infections caused by 'meningococcal group B' bacteria.

How inhaled fungal spores cause fatal meningitis
Pathogenic fungal spores capitalize on host immune cells to escape the lung and gain access to the brain to cause fatal disease in mice, according to a study published June 27, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens by Christina Hull of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues.

New non-antibiotic strategy for the treatment of bacterial meningitis
With the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance, there is a growing need for new treatment strategies against life threatening bacterial infections.

Meningitis changes immune cell makeup in the mouse brain lining
Meningitis, a group of serious diseases which infect the brain's lining, leaves its mark and can affect the body's ability to fight such infections in the future.

Study suggests universal meningitis vaccination is not cost-effective for college students
A computer-generated model developed by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers adds to evidence that providing universal vaccination against meningitis B infection to students entering college may be too costly to justify the absolute number of cases it would prevent.

Meningitis progress lags substantially behind that of other preventable diseases
The global disease burden of meningitis remains unacceptably high, and progress lags substantially behind that of other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Read More: Meningitis News and Meningitis Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.