Meningitis could be behind mystery illness in Liberia, officials say

Story highlights

  • 31 people have gotten sick and 13 have died since attending a funeral April 22 in Liberia
  • Samples from four deceased patients tested positive for meningitis C

(CNN)Meningitis may be to blame for a cluster of sudden deaths and infections over the past month in Liberia, global health officials said.

The unexplained illness has infected 31 people and claimed the lives of 13, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Wednesday.
Samples from four patients who died have tested positive for meningitis C, Liberia's Health Ministry told the WHO Monday. This points to the bacteria Neisseria meningitis as the likely cause of the illnesses, though investigations are ongoing to confirm it, the WHO said.
    The infection is spread by close contact with infected people. Health officials in Liberia have been isolating suspected patients, tracing contacts, requiring safe burials and engaging with community and religious leaders to raise awareness, WHO spokesman Tarik Jašarević said.
    An effective vaccine is available. While investigations continue, Liberian health officials are looking into vaccination options to prevent further cases, the WHO said.
    The US Centers for Disease Control, which received blood, urine and plasma samples from the first patient believed to have died in this cluster, this week is sending meningitis laboratory scientists and epidemiologists to Liberia to assist investigations and to confirm whether meningitis is to blame, spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told CNN in a statement.
    "Based on what is currently known, there is no direct threat to the United States," she said.

    Child dies after funeral

    Events began on April 23, after an 11-year-old died within an hour of being admitted to a hospital with diarrhea, vomiting and confusion. The child had attended a funeral of a religious leader the previous day in Greenville, Sinoe County, according to the WHO.