"A team of health experts from the Afghan Ministry of Health [MOH] and WHO have just returned from the area today and believe the cause of death to be meningitis," Dr Asadullah Taqdeer of the national office for WHO's emergency and humanitarian action (EHA), told IRIN in Kabul.
The victims were two girls, one aged four and the other aged seven in the village of Tizak in the Behsud District of Vardak Province. "There have been lots of rumours on the scale of the problem lately which are simply not true, and that is why we sent a team there," he added.
WHO, in collaboration with the MOH, sent a team of doctors to the province on Monday to determine the scale of the problem; it concluded that there had been only two cases. "There was no need to distribute medicine as these were the only cases," Taqdeer maintained.
Meningitis is an infection within the fluid of the spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. It is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, and children are particularly vulnerable to it.
Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves itself without specific treatment, but bacterial meningitis is more virulent and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disability. Antibiotics can prevent some types of bacterial meningitis from spreading and infecting other people.
The latest cases of meningitis follow the identification of three suspected cases in the northeastern Takhar Province on 12 February. They were treated by a joint medical team from WHO and the MOH and since then no more cases have been reported.
"A second team composed of MOH officials in Takhar and WHO Konduz went back to the area after one week. They formed four teams for inspection of all villages in the Chabab District, on a house-to-house methodology and didn't find any more cases of suspected meningitis," Dr Anne Ancia of the EHA team told IRIN in Kabul.
While there were no fears of an outbreak of the disease, Ancia said the situation was being watched closely. "A mobile team will, however, keep surveying all the villages of the district during the following weeks in order to confirm the nonexistence of new suspected cases," she added.
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