Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hot topic

The Health Ministry says a recently high death toll is mainly from a heat wave, not meningitis, reports Reem Leila

Hot topic
Hot topic
Al-Ahram Weekly

For the past three weeks, hundreds of people have crowded Egypt’s hospitals, panicked by news reports of an outbreak of meningitis. However, health officials say the cause of scores of deaths was actually due much more to heatstroke.

An increase in the number of recent deaths has left people wondering whether the fatalities were due to the recent heat wave after temperatures soared to 45 degrees Celsius and humidity passed 90 per cent, or the spread of meningitis. The Minister of Health and Population announced that the total number of deaths due to sun stroke had reached 100 whereas the number of deaths from the heat had hit 1,700. The ministry issued a statement stating Cairo was the governorate with the highest number of deaths — 50 since last week.

Donia Ammar, 41, an engineer, died last week from sudden fever which was wrongly diagnosed by some doctors as sunstroke; others diagnosed her with the flu. Ammar died in a matter of days leaving three children and a mourning husband and parents. The illness was eventually diagnosed as meningitis.

Ahmed Hamdi, 78 and a former army officer, died after suffering from high temperature, vomiting and dizziness for four consecutive days. Hamdi, too, was wrongly diagnosed with a common cold and fever. He died on the same day a doctor discovered he had meningitis. Hamdi’s son,

Mohamed, told Al-Ahram Weekly that several doctors had examined his father and could not diagnose his case correctly. “Maybe if he was properly examined and correctly diagnosed he would have still been with us. Unfortunately he wasn’t,” Mohamed said. “We don’t believe the Health Ministry’s statements.”

Amr Qandil, head of preventive diseases at the Health Ministry, denied reports of the spread of an epidemic in the country. “Inaccurate newspaper reports have been issued on the spread of meningitis in Egypt’s governorates. But the percentage of patients with the disease is within the normal range,” Qandil said, adding that Egypt was free of any epidemic.

While calmly urging people not to believe the rumours, Qandil said the ministry will not hesitate to take all precautionary measures to prevent the spread of any disease. “There is no epidemic which would force the ministry to take any further extraordinary measures,” he said.

Qandil explained that meningitis is an infectious bacterial inflammation that reaches the membranes enclosing the brain and the spinal cord. “In encephalitis, which is non-infectious, the inflammation only affects the brain.”

Meanwhile, Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar, the Health Ministry spokesman, said in a press conference that ministry officials have been warning the elderly and children of direct exposure to the sun since they are the most vulnerable categories to high temperature. Abdel-Ghaffar agreed with Qandil and denied that meningitis was spreading in the country. He blamed the cause of all the deaths on the heat wave. “People should not listen to rumours spread by a few irresponsible reporters,” Abdel-Ghaffar said.

Ashraf Harhash, a doctor at a government hospital, said dozens of people had died since last week but that the heat may have little to do with it. Instead, Harhash suspects that the recent mass deaths are due to an unknown illness. “Due to the fact that most of those who died were the elderly who weren’t exposed to the heat and who all died from high fever, a sudden drop in blood pressure and cardiac arrest, I believe that these deaths were associated with a virus,” said Harhash.

Suspicions by Harhash, who said testing for meningitis is expensive, remain just that. He admitted that when the deaths first started, he initially believed that it was due to heat stroke but as the numbers continued to rise — about 50 new cases daily with similar symptoms in and out of Cairo — “my suspicions continued to rise”.

The public is also questioning the ministry’s statement and is demanding the real reason for the deaths. Housewife Elham Ismail believes that the government is intentionally keeping critical information from the people to prevent panic “and to avoid giving us vacations during the heat wave”.

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