Hundreds of pupils given antibiotics in meningitis alert

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

More than 450 pupils and staff at a West Yorkshire school are to be given antibiotics to protect them against the meningitis bacterium after two pupils developed the life-threatening illness.

The girls, aged 9 and 10, are recovering in hospital from meningococcal meningitis and public health officials say the cases are unlikely to be linked.

However, they are anxious to avoid panic among parents and pupils at Overdale School in Dewsbury, in the wake of an outbreak in Lincolnshire in which five people died - two from the same school - and another 14-year-old pupil is recovering in hospital. A 40-year-old Lincoln man is still critically ill in a Nottingham hospital.

Dr Chris Worth, director of public health, said that throat swabs would be taken from pupils and staff to ensure that the bacterium was not spreading within the school, and all would be given preventive antibiotics, although this is no guarantee of protection.

The schoolgirls are believed to be infected with the same strain of bacterium that has killed a 21-year-old Canadian girl, an exchange student at Leeds University, and infected a16-year-old boy and a baby. The boy is recovering but the baby is said to be "very poorly."

Leeds University last night sought to reassure anxious students, saying that the probability of infection, even within the same household, was less than one in 100.

Students who live in the same flat as the girl who died are to be given a preventive dose of antibiotics.

Meanwhile, a 16-year-old London schoolgirl with meningitis was said last night to be "doing very well" in St Thomas' hospital, as her school reassured parents that the case was likely to be an isolated one.

A spokeswoman at the Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, west London, said parents had been alerted to symptoms of the illness, but no preventive treatment - antibiotics or vaccination - was considered necessary at present.

A two-year-old girl with the disease is still critically ill following a 100 mph "relay race" by police early on Tuesday to get life- saving equipment to the Yorkhill Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, where she is being treated.

Doctors urgently needed two fibre-optic heartbeat measuring devices which were only available from a laboratory in Kent. Police forces joined in a 450-mile dash from Abbott Laboratories in Sheerness in just four hours and 17 minutes.

Cases of acute meningitis are running at between 17 and 20 per cent higher than this time last year and likely to top 2,000 before the end of 1995. A spokesman for the National Meningitis Trust said a long damp spring may be to blame.

n The National Meningitis Trust Helpline: 0345 538118.