Another boy dies in UK's meningitis capital

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THE ENTIRE population of Ironville in Derbyshire had willed the little boy to live - but in vain. Yesterday, the former pit village lost another child to meningitis.

Colin Whitehead, eight, died in the Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, barely a week after contracting the disease. With a chest infection and weak heart his chances of beating the particularly virulent C-strain of the virus had been 50 per cent at best.

Ironville, where the meningitis rate is 30 to 40 times higher than anywhere in the UK, knows this kind of death too well. Meningitis killed four- year-old Luke Pryor here in August 1997 and there have been three outbreaks in as many years. A three-year-old, Amy Booth, was struck down a month ago but released from hospital last week.

Most of the village's 1,500 residents were vaccinated last week and yesterday it emerged that South Derbyshire Health Authority had won provisional permission to use the groundbreaking group C conjugate meningococcal vaccine on 250 village children aged between one and eleven. Later this week, they will become the first in the world to receive it.

The new vaccine, not due to go into mass production until October, is much stronger than any used before. It affects the carrying powers of the meningococcal organism in people's throats and provides "herd immunity" so that even people who are not given the vaccine will be immunised.

But yesterday, this news did little to ease fears in the village. Paul Pettifer, 32, whose son Jordan nearly died in the 1997 outbreak, said: "We are getting to the point where we are seriously considering moving out of the village. You have to consider your children in cases like this." Jordan, now six, was in a coma for a week and has been left permanently deaf.

Tina Brown, 35, said she was worried for her unborn child. "I can't be vaccinated so what am I to do? This has caused great panic."

Dr Roy Fey, consultant in communicable diseases for South Derbyshire health authority, is baffled by the incidence. "We had been hoping everything we did was going to control the problem but it keeps coming back at us," he said.