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Last Updated: Monday, 20 September, 2004, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Vaccine confusion 'costing lives'
Image of advanced meningitis
Meningitis deaths are rising because people wrongly believe they are protected by a vaccine, experts say.

The number of deaths rose from 317 in 2002 to 370 last year while the overall cases actually decreased.

The Meningitis Research Foundation said it thought people were assuming they were protected after the introduction of a meningitis C vaccination in 1999.

It is launching a campaign, The Race Against Time, to raise awareness about other forms of the disease.

Leaflets will be sent to GPs for patients pointing out that the vaccine does not offer protection against all types of meningitis and septicaemia, the blood poisoning from meningitis.

They will also challenge other misconceptions, highlighting it is not only the young that can be affected and symptoms do not always include a rash.

Death rate

The meningitis C vaccine is given to all new babies and has also been offered to under 25s.

Since its introduction, the number of cases of meningitis C has fallen by 90% and contribute only a small proportion of the overall meningitis cases each year.

It has also helped cut the number of cases from a 50-year high of 4,000 in the late 1990s to last year's total of 2,500.

"We don't know why exactly the number of deaths are rising but people tell us that they didn't act on the symptoms because they thought the vaccine offered protection
Meningitis Research Foundation spokeswoman

However, the 2003 figure was up slightly on the previous year and there has been a 3% increase in the death rate from 12% to 15%.

The only other meningitis vaccine included in the UK immunisation programme is for hib.

There is no vaccine for other types of meningitis, including meningitis B.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said: "The rise in the number of deaths is extremely worrying.

Deafness

"We don't know why exactly the number of deaths is rising but people tell us that they didn't act on the symptoms because they thought the vaccine offered protection.

"But the vaccine only protects you against the meningitis C.

"Meningitis and septicaemia are devastating diseases that continue to affect thousands of people every year, claiming hundreds of lives.

"And of those who recover, many will have after effects that could be as serious as deafness, brain damage and amputations.

"You need to act fast to save a life, so it's important to know what you're up against."

The Meningitis Trust, a charity which offers support and counselling, said it welcomed the campaign.

A spokeswoman said: "We are victims of our own success. The C vaccine has been promoted so well that people have become complacent.

"But the biggest killer is meningitis B."


SEE ALSO:
Girl gets meningitis three times
04 Aug 04  |  Cambridgeshire
Meningitis booster plan
22 Jul 04  |  Health
Meningitis death sparks concern
17 Jul 04  |  North Yorkshire


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