UK: Meningitis Cases Hit Record Low

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Cases of bacterial meningitis in children are at a record low thanks to NHS immunisation programmes, Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced today.

To coincide with World Meningitis Day, a new report by the Director of Immunisation, Professor David Salisbury, highlights the success of childhood vaccines against the three main strains of meningitis:

* Since the Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine was introduced in 1992, cases of this disease, which can cause meningitis, have dropped by 99 per cent from about 800 cases a year to a record low of 12 cases last year in children under five.

* Since the Meningitis C vaccine was introduced in 1999, deaths from the disease have fallen from as many as 79 to an average of less than one death a year.

* In the two years since the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced, it is estimated that over 900 serious cases have been prevented, saving over 50 lives.

In the next three years, a vaccine against the last significant cause of bacterial meningitis, group B meningococcal disease, is a very real prospect. It means attempts to bring the disease most feared by parents to its knees could be in sight.

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.

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Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, said: "In just over 15 years, thanks to the NHS immunisation programme, cases of meningitis are at a record low. This is thanks to decades of research by scientists and dedication of NHS staff, and with the support of parents.

"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, 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."

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