The army and the Health Ministry have launched a SFr1.2 million meningitis vaccination programme to reduce the risk of infection among soldiers.
This week's fresh batch of 12,500 young recruits will be the first to benefit from the voluntary vaccination programme, which is designed to prevent contamination from the most frequent strain of the disease, Group C meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.
While the head of the medical sector, Rolf Huber, said it is too early to evaluate how many soldiers will opt to take the vaccination, statistics show recruits are particularly prone to the disease, which thrives in populated close-quarter living areas
"Studies show that recruits are seven times more likely to contract the disease in the army than in civilian life", Huber said.
Meningitis is primarily transmitted by airborne saliva-droplets, which are projected during conversations, coughs and sneezes. Along with army troops, school and kindergarten children are considered high-risk populations.
Fatal in 10 to 15 per cent of cases, meningitis can also seriously and permanently damage the central nervous system. However, if detected and treated rapidly, antibiotics generally give good results.
At least 95% of people recover from meningococcal meningitis, but the recovery rate in patients with meningococcal septicaemia can be as low as 50 per cent, depending on the severity of the disease . Both types of infection can kill very quickly if not recognised and treated in time, according to the International Meningitis Research Foundation.
The symptoms vary from person to person. According to Gabriel Voirol, chemist in canton Jura, the disease generally but not always triggers fever, stiffness in the neck, vomiting and headaches.
"The meningitis symptoms resemble somewhat flu symptoms", Voirol said.
In the military, the most resistant condition is not meningitis but drug or alcohol abuse and anxiety. Recruits deemed unfit for military service cost the armed forces SFr10 million in 2000.
In principle, all Swiss men have to serve in the armed forces until they have reached the age of 42.
This year a record 84 female recruits joined their male counterparts on parade grounds at 43 barracks across the country, said the defence ministry.
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