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Keywords:

  • Neisseria meningitidis W135;
  • epidemic meningococcal meningitis;
  • Ghana;
  • Sahel

Summary

Neisseria meningitidis serogroup W135, well known for a long time as a cause of isolated cases of meningococcal meningitis, has recently increasingly been associated with disease outbreaks of considerable magnitude. Burkina Faso was hit by W135 epidemics in the dry seasons of 2002–2004, but only four W135 meningitis cases were recorded between February 2003 and March 2004 in adjoining Ghana. This reconfirms previous findings that bottlenecks exist in the spreading of new epidemic N. meningitidis clones within the meningitis belt of sub-Saharan Africa. Of the four Ghanaian W135 meningitis patients one died and three survived, of whom one had profound neurosensory hearing loss and speech impairment. All four disease isolates were sensitive to penicillin G, chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin and cefotaxime and had the multi-locus sequence type (ST) 11, which is the major ST of the ET-37 clonal complex. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) profiles of the Ghanaian disease isolates and recent epidemic isolates from Burkina Faso were largely identical. We conducted meningococcal colonization surveys in the home communities of three of the patients and in the Kassena Nankana District located at the border to Burkina Faso. W135 carriage rates ranged between 0% and 17.5%. When three consecutive surveys were conducted in the patient community with the highest carrier rate, persistence of W135 colonization over a period of 1 year was observed. Differences in PFGE profiles of carrier isolates taken at different times in the same patient community were indicative of rapid microevolution of the W135 bacteria, emphasizing the need for innovative fine typing methods to reveal the relationship between W135 isolates.