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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 13:22 GMT
Q&A: Meningitis vaccine success

Julia Warren, Meningitis Research Foundation
BBC News Online talks to Julia Warren, director of the Meningitis Research Foundation, about the success of the meningitis C vaccine.

What has been achieved by the vaccination programme? Can we expect to see meningitis C completely eradicated within a couple of years?

What we have achieved is that immunisation from the group C disease - which can kill in hours - has been offered to every single baby, child and young adult under the age of 18.

In the future, it is expected that as many as 150 lives a year will be saved by this.

We hope that perhaps within the next few years the strain will be eradicated, but it is hard to say.

There are still some cases every year arising in the adult population.

Do many other countries have such a successful vaccination programme against the C strain?

The UK is leading the field - we were the very first country to introduce this.

Since then, the Republic of Ireland and Spain have followed suit, but we were the first to give this protection to our children.

What should parents do now? Can they be more relaxed about meningitis?

Unfortunately not. Even though we have this protection against the group C disease, there is still the threat from the other major forms of the disease, such as the group B disease.

Parents need to be vigilant for the signs of infection, as the sooner the children are diagnosed and treated, the better their chances are.

The main symptoms to look out for are flu-like, with children becoming quite ill over a short space of time, going downhill rapidly.

Other signs include:

  • Stiff neck and joint aches and pains
  • A dislike of bright light
  • A high fever and vomiting, with the body of the child feeling very hot, and the extremities very cold
  • A dark rash, which does not fade when pressed with the side of a glass

Why isn't there a vaccine available for the B strain as well? How close are we to having one?

Getting a vaccine for the group B strain of meningitis is far more complex than producing one for group C.

At the moment it has eluded all the scientists who are working on it.

The scientists have yet to find a potential "target" on the virus which can be included in the vaccine to alert the body to the virus.

Even when this is found, it will be several years before a vaccine can be tested and made available.

The Meningitis Research Foundation is spending millions on research into prevention, detection and treatment of meningitis, but more money is always needed.

Should parents have any concerns about the safety of the meningitis C vaccine?

The vaccine can have some minor side-effects, such as a rash at the injection site, and perhaps some feelings of nausea a short time afterwards, but nothing that can be classed as major.

A very few people may have more severe reactions - certainly, if you reacted badly to the hib vaccine (an earlier vaccine for another form of meningitis, given to babies), then they may not be able to have the meningitis C vaccine.

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03 Jan 01 | Health
Brain disease 'wiped out'
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