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Wednesday, February 10, 1999 Published at 08:36 GMT


Meningitis study group set up

Pontypridd strain: Usual symptoms may not develop

The government is setting up a special group to see if any lessons can be learnt from the meningitis outbreak in south Wales.

The BBC's Valerie Jones reports from Pontypridd
Jon Owen Jones, junior health minister for Wales, told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the group would look at the issues surrounding meningococcal infection in Wales.

It will be headed by Professor Ian Cameron, Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales College of Medicine, and will include representatives from leading meningitis charities.

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The move comes after some parents criticised Bro Taf health authority's reaction to the outbreak in Pontypridd following the deaths of three people from meningitis, including 15-year-old Gareth Gould.

Seven other people are in hospital with the disease. One, 16-year-old Stuart Mottram, was reported to be improving on Wednesday after being in critical condition in Cardiff's University Hospital.

A public health emergency has been declared and over 1,700 pupils and staff at Coedylan Upper and Lower schools and at Trerobert primary school have been given antibiotics.

Health chiefs say they have no plans to extend the immunisation programme to other schoolchildren in the area.

This was despite criticism from some parents who said their children had mixed with pupils at the three other schools.

The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) has welcomed the government's study group.

A spokeswoman said it could look at tightening guidelines on managing meningitis in the light of an upsurge in cases in the last two years.

The guidelines were last updated in January 1997.

The UK is now suffering the highest number of meningitis cases in 50 years.

The spokeswoman said that, in the past, cases tended to be more isolated, but there have been a growing number of cluster outbreaks in recent years.

"Maybe health authorities need to take action over one case, particularly if it was in a close-knit community like a school or university," she said.

There have been several meningitis outbreaks in Wales in recent years, including some cases in north Wales last month and last year and an outbreak at Cardiff university in 1996.

The MRF says lessons could be learnt from studying how cases affect a small population group such as Wales.

Professor Liam Donaldson: 'health chiefs acted rapidly'
Following criticism of the handling of the south Wales case, Professor Liam Donaldson, the government's Chief Medical Officer, defended health officials' actions.

He said they had acted rapidly and in keeping with existing meningitis guidelines.


But he warned parents to be vigilant. He wrote to all doctors in November and January to tell them to be on the alert for the symptoms of the illness.

The south Wales outbreak has slightly different symptoms because it is a different strain of meningitis C.

Victims tend to suffer fever, rash, muscle aches and painful joints. The usual cause of death is blood-poisoning, or meningococcal septicaemia.

Health officials said they took action as soon as they realised more than one person had come down with meningitis.

A spokeswoman for Bro Taf health authority said: "As soon as we realised there were other cases we moved in to give antibiotics and then vaccinations to the schools involved."

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