Zinhle Mapumulo

Zinhle Mapumulo

Despite the increase in the number of people infected with the deadly meningococcal meningitis, the Health Department remains calm.

The department says there is "no need to panic" as it is the season of meningitis and the number of cases this year is down compared to previous years.

Last year, between January and March, 50 cases of meningitis were reported across the country, 31 of them in Gauteng.

Department spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said this week: "There is no need to raise the alarm because there has been a sharp decline in the number of meningitis cases reported this year.

"Only 36 cases have been reported so far this year, with only 12 of them in Gauteng. KwaZulu-Natal has confirmed only two cases and the response team in the province has been tasked in tracing all the contacts and to ensure that they get appropriate clinical care," Hadebe said.

At present, six people are being treated for meningitis in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and six people have died.

Meningitis has two different strains - bacterial and viral. They are both common and contagious. The one caused by bacteria, meningococcal meningitis, is deadly and it thrives in newborn babies, children, teenagers and young adults under crowded conditions.

Recently, there has been an uproar in Johannesburg following the confirmation of a case in the refugee-flooded Central Methodist Church in the city centre.

John Louw, provincial health spokesperson, confirmed that the Zimbabwean man taken ill at the church last week was infected with the deadly strain.

"The man is being treated at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital," he said.

"No other cases have been identified. Antibiotics and prophylaxis has been offered to people who were in close contact with the patient.

"Educational material about meningitis is being handed out to all the people living at the church and in nearby areas."

The national health department refuted reports that meningitis had spread to Western Cape.

Hadebe said: "We would like to put it on record that no such cases have been reported or confirmed. In line with its commitment of ensuring awareness in such situations, the department will inform the public of any new case or cases anywhere in the country."