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A vaccine for meningitis could save three lives every day from early next year

A VACCINE for a deadly strain of meningitis is at an advanced stage and could be rolled out in Ireland by early next year.

The vaccine could potentially prevent all types of meningitis and septicaemia.

There are almost 3,500 recorded cases of these diseases across Ireland and the UK each year, research has indicated.

Viral meningitis can be very uncomfortable, but it is almost never life-threatening and most people will soon make a full recovery.

However, bacterial meningitis is more serious and most cases in the UK and Ireland are caused by meningococcal bacteria.

These bacteria also cause septicaemia, the blood-poisoning and life-threatening form of the disease.

Researchers in the UK have now identified that the life-long costs to the government of medical treatment and ongoing care for a person seriously disabled by the disease are around e3.7m.

And although the initial outlay of the vaccine could be significant in monetary terms, the long-term savings and benefits of a vaccine would be far superior.

Medical information officer with the Meningitis Research Foundation Andy Cochrane told the Herald that the process is at an advanced stage.

She explained that the antigens on the surface of the B strain of meningococcal bacteria that causes meningitis can vary.

"The vaccine is under development and it is at the latter stages of clinical trials," she said.

"We're hoping a licence will be granted early next year. It is currently going through the various committees and decision-making processes.

"This has been in the pipeline for a long time, but for various reasons it never happened."

The organisation has been able to fund research, through assistance from members and donors, into the discovery and testing of potential MenB vaccines.



Burden

It is estimated that the vaccine could prevent more than three cases a day and reduce the potential burden of these diseases on thousands more families.

The disease kills one in 10 and leaves a quarter of survivors with life-altering effects as severe as deafness, brain damage and loss of limbs.

It is often impossible to recognise the disease in the early stages and symptoms range from fever, vomiting, aches and pains to rashes on the skin.

Meningococcal bacteria are common -- about 10pc of the population carry them in the back of the nose or throat.

Young adults have the highest rate of carriage, with up to one in four harbouring the bacteria.

clairemurphy@herald.ie


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