Meningitis hits third pupil as school closes

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A primary school in Croydon, south London, where three children have developed meningitis-related blood poisoning, has closed temporarily after scores of anxious parents kept children at home yesterday.

In the latest in a series of outbreaks which have alarmed parents, a 10-year-old boy from the Wolsey Junior and Infant school in New Addington has died, and an eight-year-old girl is now recovering in intensive care.

Croydon Health Commissioning Agency yesterday confirmed that a third pupil from the junior school is ill with meningococcal septicaemia, a form of blood poisoning caused by the meningitis bacterium. Two of the pupils are in the same year. The death rate from meningococcal septicaemia is one in five, compared with a death rate of one in ten for meningococcal meningitis.

During 1995 there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of suspected or confirmed cases of meningococcal disease in the Croydon area, and GPs were warned to be increasingly vigilant for symptoms during the winter months when the disease peaks.

Dr John Thomas, consultant in public health medicine at Croydon Health, said it was "quite unusual" to have three pupils infected at one school in such a short time. Tests are under way to see if the cases are linked, and preventive antibiotics have been recommended for all junior-school pupils.

Dr Thomas said there was no medical reason for the school, which has 320 juniors and 270 infants, to close. "It is more a matter of convenience for parents," he said. A nursery attached to the school was also closed.

Public health officials in West Yorkshire have also confirmed meningitis in two pupils at the Emley First School in Huddersfield. One child was admitted to the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary over the weekend, and the other is at the Pinderfields Hospital, in Wakefield. The school remains open but throat swabs will be taken from the100 pupils and 15 staff today and they will be offered antibiotics.

The Huddersfield outbreak follows four cases in the nearby Dewsbury area, including two girls, aged nine and ten, who were pupils at the Overthorpe Junior and Infant School. More than 450 pupils and staff were last week given preventive antibiotic treatment.

In Leeds, two six-year-old pupils at the Our Lady of Good Counsel primary school, in Seacroft, have been confirmed with meningitis but Dr Martin Schweiger, a consultant in Communicable Disease Surveillance at Leeds Health Authority, said the school would remain open and that only immediate contacts of the children would be given antibiotics.

A 21-year-old student at Leeds University died of meningitis last week, believed to be the 10th death from the disease in the city this year. A 16-year-old boy and a baby are recovering from the illness. Ray Thompson, of the National Meningitis Trust, said yesterday that cases were running at between 17 and 20 per cent up on last year and the number of deaths was likely to top 2,000.

At St Mary's Hospital, in London, which runs one of the few meningitis "crash" teams in Britain, a spokesman said cases had increased on last year. Between 1 November and 5 December, the hospital had treated 24 cases compared with 9 in the same period in 1994.