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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 12:09 GMT


UK seeks Cuban meningitis secret

Vaccine has had remarkable success in Cuba

Doctors in the UK are testing a vaccine that has appeared to eradicate a deadly form of meningitis in Cuba.

Sue Nelson reports on a Cuban breakthrough
Meningitis is an infection that can effect the brain and blood. Initial symptoms mimic those of 'flu, but the disease can kill within hours.

Each year more than 2,000 people in the UK get the B strain of meningococcal meningitis and of those 200 will die.

The disease strikes quickly and prevention is thought to be the best answer.

But the only country in the world to have a national vaccination programme is Cuba.

Cuba has channelled funds into science, education and healthcare since the revolution in 1959.

One of its biggest successes has been a vaccine for meningitis B - an achievement that has proved beyond scientists from the rest of the world.

[ image: Dr Ishmael Clark: thousands of children died]
Dr Ishmael Clark: thousands of children died
Dr Ishmael Clark, of the Cuba Academy of Science, said: "At the beginning of the 1980s we had several important outbreaks of this disease among our people, especially affecting children.

"And every year perhaps thousands of children died because of this disease."

Since the vaccination programme began, no children have died from meningitis B in Cuba.

A team of researchers from Imperial College, London, funded by the Meningitis Research Foundation and Remedi, a research trust, have travelled to Cuba, where they are evaluating the vaccine and the immunity it has given the Cuban people against meningococcal disease.

Devastating disease

[ image: Dr Michael Levin:
Dr Michael Levin: "Only a vaccine will work"
UK team leader Dr Michael Levin said: "All our team working on the intensive care unit would like nothing better than to never see another child with this disease.

"This is a devastating disease that kills a large number of children, it cripples and maims many others. Only a vaccine will stop the tragedy of death from this disease occuring."

Linda Glennie, medical information officer for the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "In the 1980s Cuba had a big problem with meningococcal disease which it appears to have solved.

"The situation in the UK is more complicated because we have many different types of B strain.

"However, we hope that this research project will provide vital clues which will enable scientists to develop a vaccine against B strain which accounts for about 60% of cases of the disease in this country."

The results of the study will be released next year.

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