Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 00:12 UK

Meningitis vaccine gives travellers immunity

A child being immunised against meningitis
Children are routinely vaccinated against Men C but adults are not

A new meningitis vaccine which protects against four major strains of the disease is available in Europe for the first time.

The vaccine, called Menveo, is likely to be used as a travel vaccine to protect people from contracting meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa.

A large section of Africa is known as the Meningitis Belt because of the severity of meningitis epidemics there.

The vaccine will offer longer lasting protection against the disease.

The new vaccine is a conjugate vaccine which can bring about herd immunity - that is, it can protect people who have not been vaccinated by cutting circulating levels of the bacteria in the community.

It also offers better protection in infants and young children.

Widespread cases

The predominant strains of meningitis vary across the world.

In certain parts of Africa the A strain causes a huge toll of illness and death. Cases of W-135, once considered rare, are also increasing.

Travellers should consider visiting a specialist travel health centre where they can be advised and provided with expert knowledge
Dr Zuckerman, University College London Medical School

The Y-strain is common in the US and is increasingly being seen in South America.

Researchers have begun to warn that epidemics are occurring in countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Namibia too.

Widespread cases have also been seen in some parts of South Africa.

The next step

Dr Jane Zuckerman is director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Travel Medicine at the University College London Medical School.

She said: "Travellers should consider visiting a specialist travel health centre where they can be advised and provided with expert knowledge on the diseases they might be exposed to and the vaccines and medicines they require to keep well."

Children in the UK have been routinely vaccinated against meningitis C since 2000, but there is no routine vaccination in the UK against the other strains.

Linda Glennie, who is head of research at the Meningitis Research Foundation, welcomed the new vaccine.

She said the next step was to find out "if this vaccine has a potential wider use than just travel".

Menveo is made by Novartis Vaccine and Diagnostics and has a licence for use in people aged 11 years and over.

At least one other drug company is expected to launch a similar vaccine soon.

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