Dramatic fall in meningitis infections reported: Parents' concern helped Hib immunisation drive

A DRAMATIC fall in the numbers of very young children who caught the dangerous infection, Hib meningitis, has been reported for the first three months of the year, less than six months after a vaccination programme was introduced.

The Department of Health is announcing today a 70 per cent drop in the infection in babies under a year old and a 60 per cent drop in children up to four years old.

Dr David Salisbury, principal medical officer at the department, in charge of the programme, said: 'These are very preliminary figures but we are very excited by them. Virtually no mothers of young babies are refusing the vaccine.'

There are four types of meningitis and although Hib meningitis is not the most serious, is has still caused 70 deaths and 1,300 hospitalisations a year.

The months of January to March usually see the highest number of cases. In the first quarter of 1993 there were only 22 reports to the Public Health Laboratory Service in babies under a year old compared with 76 in 1991 and 1992 and 74 in 1990. Notifications of Hib meningitis for all ages were around 200 for the first three months of 1990, 1991 and 1992. This year there were 117.

Hib meningitis vaccine was introduced into the national immunis ation programme last October. Fuelled by reports of two children on Teesside who died from meningitis in October, demands for the vaccine were heavy, leading to shortages.

The rapid success of the programme could be explained by the great fear that parents have of meningitis since it can kill and cause brain damage, Dr Salisbury said.

'There is very high public awareness of this disease and great fear of an awful and sudden disaster that can fall on a healthy child. I think it is suddenness with which the disease can strike and that you cannot really see anything that causes such high levels of anxiety in parents,' he said.

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