Meningitis vaccine under scrutiny

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2001, 12:00am

Childhood meningitis, estimated to affect between 10 and 15 youngsters in the territory every year and leave up to three handicapped, is being monitored by Hospital Authority paediatricians.

The aim is to see whether children need to be immunised against the disease with the Hib - haemophyllus influenza bacteria - vaccine. These vaccinations are now being carried out routinely in Europe and North America.

'Hib seems to be not as common here as in Western countries and Europe,' said Dr Susan Chiu, assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Hong Kong. 'Hong Kong people are still debating whether the Government should make it mandatory for the vaccine.'

Dr Chiu said Hib was a major cause of meningitis - an inflammation caused by an infection of the membranes that surround the brain or spinal cord. 'It's devastating and people die,' she said.

In the next two years, attempts will be made to establish the pattern of Hib among local children in order to determine exactly how many contract the disease every year. The Department of Health said it had received reports of up to three cases of Hib meningitis annually in Hong Kong over the past five years, with no deaths.

But Professor Lau Yu-lung, chairman of the University of Hong Kong's department of paediatrics, said in a World Health Organisation bulletin that a recent study indicated Hib affected three in every 100,000 Hong Kong children every year.

This meant that out of a total of 10 to 15 cases a year, two to three would be permanently handicapped, 'surviving for decades and thus in need of long-term health care'.

The cost of immunisation would be about $800,000, which could be easily offset by savings made in not having to provide care for these handicapped children for the rest of their lives, Professor Lau said.