Page last updated at 23:51 GMT, Sunday, 20 April 2008 00:51 UK

Meningitis C deaths cut to zero

Meningitis rash
A vaccine against meningitis C was introduced in 1999

There were no deaths from meningitis C among under-19s in England last year, a government report has revealed.

Before routine immunisation was introduced in 1999, up to 78 children a year were killed by the infection.

The figures show cases of meningitis C, which can cause brain damage in survivors, have fallen by 95%.

However, other strains remain a problem and a vaccine for the most common - meningitis B - will not be available for a few years, experts said.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis C used to be one of the most common types of the condition in the UK, with the majority of cases in infants and teenagers.

It is proof that the UK has one of the most successful immunisation programmes in the world, thanks to the hard work of NHS staff
Dawn Primarolo
Public Health Minister
It is estimated that meningitis C vaccination has saved 500 lives since 2000 and the pneumococcal vaccine, introduced in 2006, has prevented 470 deaths or serious illness in young children.

Dr David Elliman, a consultant in community child health at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, said the meningitis C vaccine had been of "enormous value" for public health, the NHS and parents.

"If there's been a reduction in deaths, there will also be a reduction in children who have been left permanently damaged by the infection.

"But we still need to remember that meningitis B is a problem and a vaccine may or may not be on the way in the next four or five years."

Confidence

The government report also highlights a recent survey which found that 73% of parents feel the MMR vaccine is safe, compared with 63% in 2003.

MMR uptake fell after research - since discredited - suggested a link with autism.

It is slowly climbing back, but at 85% is still well below the 95% needed to protect everyone in the population.

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said it was imperative that vaccination continued to be encouraged - particularly for MMR.

"The evidence on MMR is clear. Population studies and studies in individual children show no link between the vaccine and autism.

"We need to put that scare behind us and make sure our children are as well protected as possible."

Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said the figures proved vaccination was helping to "halt diseases in their tracks".

"It is proof that the UK has one of the most successful immunisation programmes in the world, thanks to the hard work of NHS staff."




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