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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 November, 2004, 00:18 GMT
Rare meningitis 'treatment hope'
TB bacterium
Tuberculosis bacteria causes the rare form of meningitis
A drug treatment combination can reduce deaths from tuberculosis meningitis by up to a third, scientists believe.

Researchers found using traditional TB drugs with dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug, cut deaths from the rare form of meningitis by 30%.

Dexamethasone is already used to treat acute bacterial meningitis such as Hib but it is the first time it has been proved useful in tackling TBM.

The Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam studied 545 patients.

While the drug combination had an effect on the mortality rate, it did not reduce the number of people left severely disabled by the rare form of meningitis.

TBM kills or severely disables about half of the 80,000 people who contract it across the world each year - the majority of which are in the developing world.

Experts predict TBM will rise in the future so it is essential we can deal with it
Linda Glennie, of the Meningitis Research Foundation

About 150 in the UK get TBM each year although the number is rising with increased foreign travel and immigration.

It is caused when TB bacteria invade the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Dr Guy Thwaites, research fellow at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the research, said it was a great breakthrough.

"Tuberculosis Meningitis is a disease which can be a death-penalty for sufferers. Developing a treatment that's clinically proven to reduce deaths by such a significant margin is a giant leap forward.

"This is a major breakthrough in reducing fatalities from TBM, but we still need to develop treatments which lower the number of patients who develop severe disabilities.

"Many suffer stroke-like symptoms with loss of bodily functions and paralysis down one side of the body.


"We're thrilled by the progress we've made, but will continue searching for new treatments."

Linda Glennie, head of research and medical information at the Meningitis Research Foundation, said it was a "promising study".

"Dexamethasone is already used for treating acute bacterial meningitis but while TBM is a bacterial meningitis it is not considered as an acute type as it is slow developing.

"As such it has not been proved that dexamethasone is useful in treating TBM but this is a large study and the results are quite clear.

"It is certainly good news for the developing world but it is also an important breakthrough in the UK.

"Experts predict TBM will rise in the future so it is essential we can deal with it."

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