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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 18:33 GMT


School defends meningitis action

Pontypridd strain: Usual symptoms may not develop

The Welsh school at the heart of an outbreak of meningitis has defended its handling of the emergency after a pupil died from the disease and another remains in hospital in a critical condition.

Peter Hunt reports from Pontypridd on how the community is coping with the disease
A mass vaccination programme was carried out after five other children were admitted to hospital and two local women died from meningitis, sparking an official medical emergency in the town of Pontypridd.

Chairman of the governors of Coedylan Comprehensive, Peter James, defended the school's decision not to vaccinate students until nine days after 15-year-old Gareth Gould died.

"We have every confidence that the management of this outbreak has been handled in the most appropriate manner," he said.

The BBC's Valerie Jones reports from Pontypridd
He advised parents to be vigilant despite the immunisation programme and to make themselves aware of the symptoms of the disease.

Welsh Health Minister John Owen Jones made a statement to Parliament about the outbreak, describing it as a "rare situation".

"This is a dreadful illness - swift and sometimes fatal in effect, but it is very treatable if prompt diagnosis is made," he said.

[ image:  ]
Paediatricians have warned that the strain of the disease - the deadly form of group C meningitis - may not display the "usual" symptoms of headaches, a stiff neck and an aversion to bright lights.

More frequently, victims will suffer fever, rash, muscle aches and painful joints. The usual cause of death is blood-poisoning, or meningococcal septicaemia.

But meningitis campaigners are warning that inaccurate reporting of the outbreak has spread panic among parents.

The Meningitis Research Foundation says press reports of a virulent new strain of the disease has led to floods of calls to its helpline, although the strain has been around for almost five years.

[ image: Peter James:
Peter James: "Every confidence"
On Monday it emerged that a female teacher, who was in her fifties and worked in the Rhydyfelin area of Pontypridd, died of the disease within four hours of being admitted to the intensive care unit of East Glamorgan Hospital.

Bro Taf health authority has since confirmed that another woman from Rhydyfelin also died of meningococcal septicaemia a couple of weeks ago but that there was no connection.

Some 1,700 pupils and teachers at Coedylan Upper and Lower schools and at Trerobert primary school in Pontypridd have been given antibiotics.

[ image: 1,700 pupils have already been vaccinated]
1,700 pupils have already been vaccinated
Coedylan school is closing as soon as the immunisation programme is completed and will stay closed until after half term.

Doctors say they are trying to limit the spread of the outbreak and extra shipments of vaccine have been sent in from Bristol and the West Midlands.

They say there have been no new school cases since Saturday, but do not expect to give an all-clear until the weekend because of the bug's incubation period.

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