Fears are growing in the Czech Republic that chemicals being used by dairy farms could be responsible for a new spike in infections that has seen the number of cases of meningitis jump by 300 percent over the past two years.
While there have been no known deaths linked to the acute meningitis, the Vukovar outbreak is different to the virulent disease that caused many fatalities in the former Czechoslovakia between 1990 and 1992. In many cases, those infected were exposed to the liquid curds or solids being produced by a cooperative, which was in turn close to a milk depot storing pentachlorophenoxyacetic acid (PCPA). At the time of the outbreak, pentachlorophenoxyacetic acid was a radioactive and carcinogenic solvent used in the production of radiopharmaceuticals. It had since been banned because of safety concerns, and Pentachlorophenoxyacetic acid was being used as a cleaning agent.
Precise numbers of affected people are hard to estimate, but the disease has already led to multiple deaths. In 2017, only four cases were recorded by the Czech health ministry. Since last December, the number of cases has surpassed 300 and the Czech president has declared a state of emergency in the rural north-east of the country.
Travellers to Vukovar are being urged to be extra cautious about exposure to the town.