Victims of disease found to be linked

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Four teenagers who have died in the meningitis outbreak in Lincolnshire were friends who probably passed the infection amongst themselves through "normal social activity", public health officials said yesterday.

Preliminary results of tests on pupils and staff from the City School, where two pupils died and another is fighting for her life in hospital, suggest that the disease is "unlikely" to be spreading through the school.

However, more than 700 pupils and staff from the school, which remains closed, will be vaccinated over the weekend as a precaution after tests revealed that three of the seven cases of meningococcal septicaemia in the county so far were caused by the Group C strain of the bacterium.

Dr Mandy Bretman, acting director of public health medicine, said: "There is a vaccine for this strain and a programme of vaccination will start tomorrow."

Children and staff are being asked to attend the school for vaccination between 9am and 12pm on Saturday and 2pm and 5pm on Sunday. Families and relatives of the victims are advised to see their own GPs about vaccination.

Five people have died from meningitis in Lincolnshire in the last two months. In addition to Caroline East, 14, who is on a ventilator at Lincoln County Hospital, a Lincoln man of 40 is also critically ill in the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham.

The deaths include that of a ten-month-old baby, which has not been connected to the other cases. However, the man ill in hospital lived near Robert Newlin, 19, who died a week ago, and it is thought they were family friends. A second 19-year-old, Alex Kypri, lived near the City School and may have been friendly with the two 15-year-olds who died, and with Caroline.

Dr Michael Le Geyt, a consultant in communicable diseases for the health authority, said parents should remain on their guard for symptoms.