Television castaways now face threat of a meningitis outbreak

For the chosen ones, it was to be the start of a new life. A year on a desert island where they would be totally self-sufficient and cope with everything that life and the elements could throw at them.

For the chosen ones, it was to be the start of a new life. A year on a desert island where they would be totally self-sufficient and cope with everything that life and the elements could throw at them.

Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the tiny Scottish island of Taransay, who are taking part in the television programme Castaway 2000, things are not quite working out.

First, they were hit by flu and now they face a potentially lethal outbreak of meningitis. Doctors from the Western Isles Health Authority travelled to the five-mile-long strip of land yesterday to test the 28 adults and eight children for the disease and to offer antibiotics.

Michael George, the director of public health in the Western Isles, said there were no reported cases of meningitis among the castaways on Taransay, but they had had to take precautionary tests after six people on the nearby Isle of Lewis were taken ill.

One of them, a builder, had been working on the island and there is a slight risk of infection, he said.

"It is vital to note that what we are dealing with is quite a common situation following an outbreak of flu. People's resistance is lowered and they become more susceptible to infection.

"All GPs in the Western Isles are aware of the situation and have an information leaflet for patients. In situations like this, vigilance is all important."

The £2.4m project was supposed to start on New Year's Eve but, within a week of arriving, the entire community was struck down with flu. They had to be flown off the island after ferocious storms made it impossible for boats to approach and were put up in holiday cottages on the Isle of Harris while they recovered.

Most returned a fortnight ago, though the resident doctor, Roger Stephenson, refused to take his family back until last week after making sure the accommodation was finished to his satisfaction.

During the next 12 months, the fledgling islanders will be expected to cultivate barren soil and keep animals on the tiny island, which has been virtually deserted for decades.

There is one satellite phone for emergencies and the only contact they will have with the outside world is the sporadic visits from the television camera crew.

That is until the weather warms up when the island will be overrun with midges. Outbreaks of flu may seem as nothing in comparison.

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