Written Answers. - Meningococcal Disease.

Bernard Allen

Question:

603 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans he has to address the sit uation where the number of deaths from meningococcal disease doubled in 1999-2000 compared to 1988-89 and 1997-98. [20147/00]

The number of deaths attributed to bacterial meningitis in each of the years referred to by the Deputy is as follows:

1988

26

1989

16

1997

30

1998

22

1999

18

2000 (up to the end of August)

25 (provisional)

While there continues to be much research in relation to meningitis, it is not fully understood why Ireland experiences such a different pattern of disease to other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Despite the significant increase in the number of cases of bacterial meningitis notified, there has not been a commensurate increase in mortality, reflecting the improved surveillance, preventive and treatment strategies in recent years.
The working group on bacterial meningitis, which was established in 1996 under the chairmanship of my Department's deputy chief medical officer and which published reports in 1997 and 1999, includes among its members a range of medical experts who are closely involved in dealing with meningococcal disease in Ireland. The group has prepared and issued detailed advice on the surveillance, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of meningitis and it continues to monitor developments, including the outcome of research, at national and international level, so as to ensure that its advice is in line with best practice.
The development of the National Disease Surveillance Centre, which was established in 1998, will enable a much improved level of surveillance of infectious disease in Ireland and the centre will assist in the continued development of strategies to control communicable diseases, including meningitis. The centre has already developed a meningococcal disease database, which will enable the pattern of this disease to be analysed in detail.
I am today launching the campaign to immunise children and young persons up to 22 years of age against group C meningococcal disease, which accounts for approximately one-third of meningitis cases in Ireland. The vaccine will be introduced in two phases. Phase I will begin immediately and will run until spring 2001. The target groups for this phase are children under five and persons aged 15-18. The vaccine is also being incorporated into the primary childhood immunisation programme for children up to two years of age. Phase II of programme will commence once the first phase has been completed and will consist of a continuing catch-up programme to cover five to 14 year olds and 19 to 22 year olds. Immunisation will be offered free of charge to everyone in the target groups.