An outbreak of menengitis -- an often-fatal disease of the brain or spine -- has now been classed by Brazilian health officials to have become a 'long-lasting epidemic' in the country's southern city, Sao Paulo.
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Background: An outbreak of menengitis -- an often-fatal disease of the brain or spine -- has now been classed by Brazilian health officials to have become a 'long-lasting epidemic' in the country's southern city, Sao Paulo.
In Sao Paulo -- the largest city in the southern hemisphere with a population of some nine million -- meningitis has killed over 1,000 people between January and mid-September.
The Sao Paulo death toll has steadily risen since June, when fatalities stood at 3.6 a day. By mid-September the disease had increased its grip killing up to 20 people a day.
Since the beginning of the year nearly 20,000 people have come down with the disease. It is mostly the elderly, the young and the many undernourished living in the city in overcrowded conditions who are killed by the disease.
Meningitis is also on the increase in Porto Alegre and other southern cities in Brazil and the Amazon region. Death figures for the whole country, however, are not available.
Brazil had no real meningitis problem until 1970, when the illness broke out in Sao Paulo. Since then the outbreaks have become increasingly severe, usually hitting an annual peak in June and mid-winter.
The Brazilian Government is now embarking on a widespread vaccination programme. It will spend nine million US dollars (about 3.7 million pounds sterling) for 60 million doses of vaccine over the next 12 months. This will mean that 60 million of the nation's 100 million inhabitants will be vaccinated against the disease before winter seats in around May and June 1975.
Already schoolchildren in Sao Paulo are being inoculated. About half a million -- aged between six and 15 -- have been treated.
But the vaccine does not give complete immunity from meningitis. Earlier tests in other countries have shown a success rate of between 50 and 60 per cent. Limited tests in Brazil have given higher results -- up to around 75 per cent.