Vaccines drive meningitis cases to record low

The number of children suffering from the three main strains of meningitis has fallen to a record low, the Government said yesterday.

Since the Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine was introduced in 1992, cases of the disease, which can cause meningitis, have dropped by 99 per cent. Before its introduction, there were about 800 cases a year but that hit a record low last year of just 12 cases among children under five.

Meanwhile, cases of meningitis C have also fallen thanks to the meningitis C vaccine, introduced in 1999. Before the jab was developed, there were about 700 cases per year but now there is less than one per year.

Deaths from the disease have also fallen from about 79 to an average of less than one death a year. The introduction of the vaccine against pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumococcal meningitis, means that cases have fallen from about 300 per year to about 40.

It is estimated that more than 900 serious cases have been prevented, saving more than 50 lives.

Experts hope to develop a vaccine against the least common type of meningitis – meningitis B – over the next three years. The bacterial forms of meningitis cause death in about 10 per cent of cases. Those who survive can suffer a range of disabilities including loss of hearing, brain damage, paralysis and seizures.

Professor David Salisbury, the immunisation director at the Department of Health, said: "According to the World Health Organisation, vaccination sits alongside clean water as the public health measure that's had the biggest positive impact on the world's health."

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