Written Answers. - Meningitis Cases.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Question:

117 Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health the number of cases of meningitis reported in each of the years 1985 to 1995; the number of deaths due to meningitis reported in that period; the number of cases reported to date this year; the number of deaths recorded to date this year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1713/96]

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Question:

118 Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the high level of under-reporting of meningitis cases; if he will consider the establishment of a national communicable diseases centre to improve reporting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1714/96]

Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 and 118 together. The number of cases of bacterial meningitis (including meningococcal septicaemia) and acute cases of viral meningitis notified to the Department in each of the years 1985 to 1995 and so far this year and the number of deaths in the same period are as follows:—

Acute Viral Meningitis

Baterial Meningitis (including meningococcal septicaemia)

Deaths from Bacterial Meningitis and Meningococcal infection

1985

120

100

25

1986

161

147

32

1987

81

111

20

1988

101

128

26

1989

52

115

16

1990

300

131

16

1991

83

154

22

1992

104

225

32

1993

39

203

22

1994

90

241

29

1995

74

375

28

1996

4

27

3

(to date)

The statistics on deaths from meningitis and meningococcal infection for the period 1985 to 1994 have been compiled by the Central Statistics Office. In relation to 1995 and 1996, the health boards have indicated that there were 28 deaths in 1995 and three deaths so far this year.
Cases or suspected cases of bacterial meningitis (including meningococcal septicaemia), and cases of acute viral meningitis are required to be notified by medical practitioners under the Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981-1988. The increase in the number of cases reported since 1985 may indicate that notifications were incomplete in the past. I assume that the Deputy is referring to recent press reports regarding the results of a study published in the Irish Medical Journal on the reporting of meningococcal disease and haemophilus influenzae meningitis. The study covered the years 1987 to 1991 and confirmed significant under-reporting. However, the study also acknowledged an improvement in the notification rate during 1991. The system of notification has been considerably improved. A comprehensive system for monitoring the incidence of bacterial meningitis and meningococcal infection is in operation.
The increase in the number of cases reported in recent years is almost certainly composed of two elements — an actual increase in the community and more efficient reporting. The actual increase is a reflection of the unpredictable nature of this disease which can increase, sometimes significantly so without apparent reason. The greater propensity to report brings with it the possibility of over-reporting of cases — cases are reported as bacterial meningitis but following thorough hospital investigation, another diagnosis is made, usually viral meningitis. An expert group is being established to examine ways to further strengthen the diagnostic, surveillance and preventive aspects of our approach to this disease. The position regarding the National Disease Surveillance Unit is that the Department is at present examining models for the establishment of the unit. This will link in with the joint North/South Institute of Public Health which is being established in 1996 and which will analyse the incidence of communicable diseases on the island as a whole.