Meningococcal Type B Infections Increase In England

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An increase in meningococcal group B infections (MenB) has been recorded by the Health Protection Agency in late December 2008 and early January of this year for England, although the annual number of cases for 2008 remains similar to previous years.

There have been 252 cases of MenB reported in the last four weeks in December and first two weeks of January compared to 198 for the same period the year before.

The provisional annual total of MenB infections during 2008 was 1070, similar to the annual totals for 2007 (1076) and 2006 (1011).

Overall the numbers of confirmed meningococcal cases remains low with only 1194 confirmed cases in 2008, lower than 2007 (1256) and continuing the overall downward trend since 1999/2000. A major contribution to this reduction has been the sustained fall in meningococcal C (MenC) cases following the introduction of the MenC vaccine in 1999.

Meningococcal disease is a serious infection caused by a bacterium known as meningococcus which can be found naturally at the back of the throat or nose in about 10% of the population. Many adults and children carry these germs without ill effects. Only rarely do they overcome the body's defences and cause illness.

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Dr Mary Ramsay, an immunisation expert at the Health Protection Agency, said: "Thanks to the introduction on the MenC vaccine in 1999 we've seen a decrease in cases due to this strain with only 22 cases last year, compared to 989 cases in 1999.

"However, we do not yet have a vaccine against the most common group, MenB, and we have seen a significant rise in cases in the last few weeks. It's too early to tell whether this increase will continue or if there is a single cause but as we do see increases in the winter months this is a timely reminder that infection with meningococcal bacteria can cause serious diseases such as meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). Meningitis and septicaemia can occur together or separately and the consequences of which can include permanent disability or death.

"These diseases can also develop very quickly. This is why it is so important to stay vigilant and be able to recognise the signs and symptoms quickly and seek urgent medical help if there is any concern at all."

Meningitis Research Foundation Chief Executive, Christopher Head, said: "The latest figures remind us that meningitis and septicaemia are a significant threat.

"These deadly diseases can kill in hours. The most important thing you can do to protect your family against MenB is to know the symptoms and act quickly, this could save a life. It is also vital to ensure all they have all their immunisations to protect against other kinds of meningitis and septicaemia."

Someone with the infection will become very ill, though not all the symptoms will occur at once. In children and adults symptoms can include:

* a high temperature and/or vomiting;
* severe headache;
* a stiff neck, aching limbs and joints;
* a dislike of bright lights;
* drowsiness and/or a purple rash, which does not fade when pressed;
* In small babies, a refusal to feed and a high pitched cry.
* cold hands and feet

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