A new survey has revealed that three quarters of parents would like to see meningitis eradicated above all other vaccine preventable diseases, including measles, mumps and whooping cough[i].
Meningitis remains the most feared infectious disease amongst parents as it strikes so quickly and can kill within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, even despite swift treatment[ii]. It is also extremely tough to detect as the early symptoms of meningitis can resemble the flu, making it difficult to differentiate from other less serious childhood infections3. One in ten of those infected will die2 and a further 20% of survivors will be left with after effects including long term disabilities such as brain damage, amputations and hearing loss2,[iii].
Great progress has been made through the introduction of vaccines for some causes of meningitis, such as the Meningooccal Group C (MenC) vaccine which was introduced in 1999 and has prevented over 9,000 serious cases and 1,000 deaths[iv]. Thirteen years on from the vaccines introduction there have been less than 30 cases of MenC annually for the last five years, showing that this type of the disease has been virtually eradicated in the UK[v]. An ongoing threat remains however, from the Meningococcal Group B (MenB) strain which accounts for over half of all meningitis cases in the UK and cannot be prevented by vaccines currently available on the National Immunisation Programme[vi].
Vaccination programmes have had an extremely positive impact on public health, saving millions of lives and ensuring that life threatening diseases such as polio are now no longer seen in the UK[vii],[viii]. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the last reported UK death from smallpox, a disease which used to affect over 50 million people globally each year[ix] and that has now been consigned to the history books thanks to wide scale vaccination.
As children get set to head back to school parents should remember that while many infections are minor and easily treatable, the threat of more serious and life threating conditions such as meningitis remains and parents should remain vigilant.
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[i] Novartis data on file. Opinion Matters consumer survey conducted August 2013
[ii] World Health Organisation. Meningococcal meningitis factsheet. Nov 2012. Available at: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs141/en/. Accessed Aug 2013.
[iii] Rosenstein NE, et al. Meningococcal disease. N Engl J Med 2001;344:1378-88
[iv] Health Protection Agency. Vaccination for Meningococcal disease. Available at: http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1296682977081. Accessed Aug 2013.
[v] Health Protection Agency. Table 8: Invasive meningococcal C infections laboratory reports, England and Wales by age group & epidemiological year, 1998/99-2011/12 Available at: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317136089480. Accessed Aug 2013.
[vi] Meningitis Research Foundation. UK Facts and Figures (webpage). Available at: www.meningitis.org/facts Accessed Aug 2013.
[vii] NHS Immunisation Information factsheet 2004. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/planners/vaccinations/documents/factsheet%20diptheria%20tetanus%20pertussis%20polio%20hib%5B1%5D.pdf Accessed August 2013
[viii] British Polio. Polio and vaccination webpage. Available at: http://www.britishpolio.org.uk/polio-and-post-polio-syndrome/polio-and-vaccination.html Accessed August 2013
[ix] World Health Organisation. Smallpox factsheet 2001. Available at: http://www2a.cdc.gov/nip/isd/spoxclincian/contents/references/factsheet.pdf Accessed Aug 2013