Opportunistic bacteria

I believe the meningococcal bacteria is a creature of opportunity. It can remain dormant in the upper respiratory tract of a carrier for months and not cause disease. It is highly sensitive to changing weather and strikes when the temperature and relative humidity in the environment are ideal.

In the African sub-Saharan countries where outbreaks have been historically recorded since 1900, the strain X of this bacteria consistently strike in the four dry months when there is very low rainfall and very low relative humidity, less than 15 per cent. It remains dormant for the other eight months when there is high moisture content in the air.

In Fiji, however, the conditions are reversed. The outbreak occurs in the wettest months of the year with the highest relative humidity, 80 per cent. It is true we are dealing with a different strain, presumably strain W, but I believe the moist mucosal lining of the URT still keeps it in hibernation. So what causes it to strike?

I suspect this opportunistic bacteria strikes as a secondary infection. Perhaps this bacteria rides on the back of a common viral infection like the flu and when the throat gets inflamed through persistent coughing, it seizes the opportunity to enter the blood stream through the break in the lining.

The person becomes sick and goes down very quickly because his immune system cannot cope with two infections at the same time, first viral then bacterial. Perhaps this is why the disease is so easily spread among children in close quarters living.

More Stories