From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Meningitis cases hit record low in the UK

Recent figures released to coincide with World Meningitis Day

Cases of bacterial meningitis in children are now at a record low , according to a new report released by the Director of Immunisation , Professor David Salisbury to coincide with World Meningitis Day.

The drop in cases of the potentaially fatal disease has been attributed to the vaccination programme directed against the three main types of meningitis.

Since the introduction of the Hib vaccine (Haemophilus influenzae type b) in 1992, case numbers have dropped by 99% from 800 a year to just 12 last year in children under the age of five. Similarly, an average of one death occurs a year caused by Meningitis C, compared with as many as 79 before the vaccine was introduced in 1999. It is also estimated that the pneumococcal vaccine has been responsible for the prevention of over 900 serious meninitis casesand saving 50 lives in the past two years

In the UK, the main cause of bacterial meningitis is by meningitis B. Currently, there is no vaccine against this.

Meningitis and septicaemia can be difficult to spot in young children. The bacterial form of the diseases is fatal in one in ten cases and urgent treatment is required. Many of those who recover are left with long-term conditions including hearing loss, brain damage, paralysis, and seizures.

Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, said:

"The immunisation programme continues to improve and, last year, the first vaccine against cancer was introduced. All girls up to the age of 18 can now arm themselves against cervical cancer - saving up to 400 lives each year.

"When the NHS was established 60 years ago, everyone knew someone touched by childhood disease. Today, thankfully, people barely know what polio and rubella are."

Department of Health Director of Immunisation, Professor David Salisbury, said:

"I am pleased to submit this report, published during European Immunisation Week, which highlights the great strides the NHS continues to take towards not just treating patients but preventing ill-health.

"According to the World Health Organization, vaccination sits alongside clean water as the public health measure that's had the biggest positive impact on the world's health. Thanks to our immunisation programme, 1000s of children, young people and their families have been - and will continue to be spared the misery of meningitis, polio, measles, and even cervical cancer."

The UK's three leading meningitis charities - Meningitis Research Foundation, Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK - are raising awareness about World Meningitis Day on April 25.

Sue Davie, Speaking on behalf of the charities, Sue Davies said:

"We see the devastating impact of meningitis on people every day. There are vaccines for some forms of bacterial meningitis which are part of the UK childhood immunisation programme, saving many lives since their introduction.

It is really encouraging that a Meningitis B vaccine is in the pipeline but we must remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of the disease."

More information

To learn more about the signs and symptoms of meningitis:

Meningitis UK

This article was published on Sat 25 April 2009