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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 16:47 GMT


Health

Meningitis: Parents warned to be alert

A mass vaccination programme has begun in Wales

Parents and GPs should be vigilant for the signs of meningitis, Wales' junior health minister has told the House of Commons.


The BBC's Emily Reuben on the Welsh meningitis outbreak
Jon Owen Jones was speaking as 1,600 pupils and staff at three schools in Pontypridd were given antibiotics in a bid to stem the spread of the deadly brain disease.

Three people from the area have died and two children are in critical condition in hospital.

Mr Owen Jones said 11 cases had been reported in the area in the last two weeks, nine of them children.


[ image:  ]
The Bro Taf health authority has declared a public health emergency.

Mr Owen Jones said: "This is a rare situation and all GPs are being asked to be alert to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease in the Bro Taf area.

"Parents and guardians should also be vigilant."

He added that the disease was treatable if diagnosed in time.

Extra vaccines and antibiotics have been drafted into the area to meet the emergency and two helplines have been set up for worried members of the public.

Labour's Ann Clwyd asked why the number of cases of teenagers with the disease had doubled in recent years and why Wales was so badly affected.

Mr Owen Jones said meningitis was a complex disease and no-one knew why it hit one area more than another.

The number of meningococcal cases has been rising since 1995 and the UK is experiencing its worst outbreak in 50 years.

Doctors have begun treating pupils and staff at three schools in Pontypridd - Coedylan comprehensive and primary schools and Trerobert primary school.

Coedylan school will remain closed until after half-term. A special meeting is being held on Tuesday night to see whether pupils from any other of the local schools need to be vaccinated.

Those who have died in the outbreak are15-year-old Gareth Gould, a pupil at Coedylan school, a teacher who worked in the Rhydyfelin area of Pontypridd and another woman from Rhydyfelin.

Both women died of meningitis-related septicaemia.

Precautions

Several children at schools in the Pontypridd area have been affected. One of the pupils died last week and another is critically ill.

One other child from the area is critically ill, but improving in hospital and four others are in East Glamorgan hospital.

Several others have attended the hospital's casualty department and been sent home.

Meanwhile, in Cardiff, three children have been admitted to hospital with suspected meningitis.

The Meningitis Research Foundation said it had been overwhelmed with calls from worried parents, who had "panicked" after reading reports that the Wales outbreak was caused by a new "superstrain" of meningitis C.

A spokeswoman said the strain was not new and had been around for four years.

"People have been panicking and we have tried to calm them down. The levels of risk are very small and we have to get it into perspective, although it is important for parents to know the symptoms."

There are two main strains of meningitis, groups B and C.

Both are treatable with antibiotics if they are caught early.

Symptoms include a high fever, headache, a stiff neck and a red pin-prick rash.



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09 Feb 99 | Medical notes
Meningitis: Preventive measures

09 Feb 99 | Health
Meningitis vaccination effort begins





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Meningitis Research Foundation

Welsh Office

National Meningitis Trust


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