Breakthrough in meningitis scourge

Genetic factors behind the deaths of children struck down by meningitis have been identified for the first time. Experts hope the breakthrough will boost development of vaccines that protect against the deadliest strain of meningitis bacteria.

At present, there is no vaccine for the Group B strain which each year claims thousands of lives around the world. Scientists scoured the genetic codes of 6,000 people for clues to why certain individuals are more vulnerable to attacks by meningococcal meningitis, and found evidence of the key role that genetics plays in the way the body responds to the infection.

It was already known that most people carry the bugs in their throat without succumbing to the disease. But occasionally the bacteria strike with devastating force, leading to death in up to one in 10 cases. About 1,500 cases of bacterial meningitis are recorded in the UK each year. Most victims are children under five, and teenagers.