Background Neisseria meningitidis serogroup C (NmC) outbreaks occur infrequently in the African meningitis belt; the most recent report of an outbreak of this serogroup was in Burkina Faso, 1979. Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) has been responding to outbreaks of meningitis in northwest Nigeria since 2007 with no reported cases of serogroup C from 2007-2012. MenAfrivac®, a serogroup A conjugate vaccine, was first used for mass vaccination in northwest Nigeria in late 2012. Reactive vaccination using polysaccharide ACYW135 vaccine was done by MSF in parts of the region in 2008 and 2009; no other vaccination campaigns are known to have occurred in the area during this period. We describe the general characteristics of an outbreak due to a novel strain of NmC in Sokoto State, Nigeria, in 2013, and a smaller outbreak in 2014 in the adjacent state, Kebbi. Methods Information on cases and deaths was collected using a standard line-list during each week of each meningitis outbreak in 2013 and 2014 in northwest Nigeria. Initial serogroup confirmation was by rapid Pastorex agglutination tests. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from suspected meningitis patients were sent to the WHO Reference Laboratory in Oslo, where bacterial isolates, serogrouping, antimicrobial sensitivity testing, genotype characterisation and real-time PCR analysis were performed. Results In the most highly affected outbreak areas, all of the 856 and 333 clinically suspected meningitis cases were treated in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Overall attack (AR) and case fatality (CFR) rates were 673/100,000 population and 6.8% in 2013, and 165/100,000 and 10.5% in 2014. Both outbreaks affected small geographical areas of less than 150km2 and populations of less than 210,000, and occurred in neighbouring regions in two adjacent states in the successive years. Initial rapid testing identified NmC as the causative agent. Of the 21 and 17 CSF samples analysed in Oslo, NmC alone was confirmed in 11 and 10 samples in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Samples confirmed as NmC through bacterial culture had sequence type (ST)-10217. Conclusions These are the first recorded outbreaks of NmC in the region since 1979, and the sequence (ST)-10217 has not been identified anywhere else in the world. The outbreaks had similar characteristics to previously recorded NmC outbreaks. Outbreaks of NmC in 2 consecutive years in northern Nigeria indicate a possible emergence of this serogroup. Increased surveillance for multiple serogroups in the region is needed, along with consideration of vaccination with conjugate vaccines rather than for NmA alone.
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