Change to pattern of killer bug

November 6, 1998

Twelve cases of meningitis have been reported in British universities so far this academic year with two students dying from the disease in the past fortnight.

Though numbers of university cases are similar to this time last year, the Meningitis Research Foundation says the disease appears, until now at least, to be following a different pattern from last year when several universities were hit by clusters of cases.

So far this year, all but two of the cases have been in separate institutions. The foundation says there appears to be no link whatsoever between the two cases at the one university.

Cases last year were almost exclusively among first years living in halls of residence. This caused particular worry and led to some universities urging freshers to be vaccinated before going to college. This year, however, the cases have not been solely among first-years, but rather spread across all years and not particularly among those living in halls. The two students who died were at Imperial College in London and Bath Spa University College. The Imperial student, a first- year, was living in hall. The Bath student was living off campus.

"It's much more like we would expect of this age group," said Julia Warren of the foundation. "Fifteen to 24-year-olds are the second highest risk group. Among this age group we would expect some cases. This is far more what we would expect."

Ms Warren added that the disease appears to be cyclical, peaking every ten to 15 years. A peak was expected around the mid- 1990s, though 1997 saw the highest incidents of the disease in 50 years. So far this year, the number of cases of meningitis across all age groups has been similar to 1997.

Last academic year three Southampton students died from meningitis. The university had six separate cases of the disease. Across UK universities there were 15 meningitis deaths and 64 cases.

* The foundation's new 24-hour freephone number is 0808 800 3344.

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