Tourists 'carried meningitis into Majorca'

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The Independent Online
A fifth suspected case of meningitis was under investigation on the island of Majorca yesterday, as health authorities sought to reassure holidaymakers that those afflicted contracted the disease before they arrived in the Balearics.

Four children have been confirmed as stricken with the disease in Mallorca in recent days, including two who died last week. They were probably infected before they reached the island, local authorities said yesterday.

They believe that the particularly virulent strain of the disease that afflicted the youngsters - meningitis meningococcal - may have originated in Britain. The strain is rare in the Balearics but common in Britain, the island's health authorities said.

"We expect the written report in the next few days," the local government tourism chief, Pedro Pascual, said yesterday. "But we have two reasons for thinking the outbreak originated outside the island. First, because it is not a type common to Mallorca, and secondly it has an incubation period of two to ten days, and those affected fell ill within 24 hours of arrival."

A British boy, Christopher Treagust, 13, died in hospital last Monday and a German girl, 11, died two days later. Both had been staying with their parents in a holiday apartment complex in the resort of Playa de Muro. The Briton had been on a Mediterranean cruise three days before arriving in Mallorca and died 24 hours after his arrival. The German girl is thought possibly to have caught the disease from him.

Another English girl, five-year-old Michaela Leyland, was recovering yesterday after being taken into intensive care in Palma on Friday. And three-year-old Thomas O'Neil, from Leeds, who fell ill nearly two weeks ago is now better and due to fly home shortly. Both were holidaying in a hotel in Magaluf near Palma.

In a possible fifth case, a six-year-old British girl, Amy Kearney, was under observation with what was described as a "slight attack". Her parents had moved out of the complex in Playa de Muro after last week's scare, and delayed several days before reporting Amy's high temperature and rash.

Mr Pascual said yesterday that the number of hotel cancellations from British tourists remained the same as usual. "There is absolutely no more risk of contracting meningitis in Majorca than in Britain. There are 50 cases in Britain every week, but at the moment no Mallorcan is suffering from meningitis."

Mr Pascual stressed that prompt action was crucial in treating meningitis and advised parents to seek medical advice if a child had a temperature or felt stiff or nauseous. Hotel and medical staff on the island had been alerted to respond promptly to such symptoms, he said.

The disease is usually confirmed by lumbar puncture and treated with antibiotics.

British and Spanish authorities have launched a joint study to compare the epidemiological conditions of British tourists in Mallorca with those in their home towns, to try to establish the origin of the outbreak.