Six hundred and nine cases of meningitis occurred from July 1st to December 31st in the Rio de Janeiro municipal area; 311 were classified as bacterial and 298 as viral. The majority of the viral cases were part of the September-December outbreak caused by the ECHO-9 virus. Three aspects are presented and discussed in this paper: first, the contradiction between the political and epidemiological significance of the disease; second, one of the main problems of the Brazilian Health Information System - the lack of possible epidemic disease warnings to the Public Health Authorities; and, finally, the importance given to the geographical rather than to the social aspects of disease distribution in the organization of health services. This last approach may distort the overall pattern of the disease and hence, may thwart the effectiveness of health actions set up to control it.
Meningitis; Communicable diseases; Health planning; Diseases outbreaks