Press Release

Minister of State Lenihan launches Meningitis Research Foundation´s Meningitis Awareness Campaign

Mr Brian Lenihan TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, today (Tuesday 28 January 2003) launched the Meningitis Research Foundation´s awareness campaign.

The Minister of State thanked the members of the Foundation for their work on this most worthwhile initiative.

The Minister of State said: “Meningitis is a very serious and potentially fatal disease . . . Meningococcal disease is the most common form of bacterial meningitis in Ireland.” According to the National Disease Surveillance Centre provisional figures indicate that 274 cases of bacterial meningitis were notified in 2002. This is a significant reduction on previous years. The Minister of State went on to say that: “This reduction can be largely attributed to the success of the meningococcal group C (Meningitis C) immunisation campaign which Mr Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children, launched in 2000. The Meningitis C vaccine is now incorporated into the Primary Childhood Immunisation Programme and it is administered to children at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.”

The Minister of State said: “The most dramatic reduction has been seen in Group C disease which declined in 2002 by 90% when compared to 2000 – before the Meningitis C vaccine was introduced . . . A reduction was observed in all age groups in 2002 when compared to 2000. The most significant reductions have been seen in the age groups targeted by the Meningitis C vaccine, ranging from a 100% reduction in the 5-9 year age group to an 86% reduction in the 1-4 year age group.”

The Minister of State also said: “There were no group C deaths in 2002 whereas in 1999, 2000 and 2001 there were five, eleven and three deaths respectively, thereby highlighting the positive impact that the Meningitis C vaccine has had in reducing not only the morbidity but also mortality due to group C disease in Ireland in all age groups but especially in young children.”

The Minister of State warned that: “We cannot afford to become complacent about meningitis and septicaemia. Group B disease now accounts for the vast majority of the meningococcal disease notifications in Ireland and as there is no effective group B vaccine suitable for routine immunisation we must be constantly vigilant for the signs and symptoms of this disease.”

As part of the awareness campaign, the Meningitis Research Foundation has prepared “symptoms awareness” packs which are available free of charge from the Foundation and from many health board offices and pharmacies. The Foundation has a 24-hour helpline which provides valuable advice and information on meningitis and septicaemia.