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Surgeons call for nationwide vaccination campaign against meningitis

Switzerland's association of cantonal surgeons has recommended that all children aged four and under be vaccinated against meningitis C, along with teenagers between 15 and 19.

The recommendation follows a rise in the number of meningitis cases recorded in Switzerland during the first three months of this year. Some 83 people contracted the disease compared to 60 during the same period last year. Ten per cent of cases are usually fatal.

The vaccine has yet to be approved by the government, and the surgeons’ association has asked the Federal Health Office to start testing it as soon as possible. “This issue must be dealt with as a priority”, said Hans Binz, president of the association.

Peter Helbling, of the Federal Health Office, told swissinfo that it would be impossible under the present circumstances to undertake a nationwide vaccination programme.

“Even if we wanted to vaccinate all Swiss children,” he said, “we wouldn’t be able to. The industry is simply not geared up to crank out a million doses within the space of two or three weeks.”

If the vaccine is approved, its use should be authorised by early 2002. It is however already being distributed by some doctors, often at the request of worried parents.

At the beginning of the year, high levels of meningitis forced the authorities in canton Fribourg to organise a voluntary vaccination campaign for all children between the ages of two months and 19 years in the Gruyère district.

The disease had reached hyper endemic levels, with an average of more than 10 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Nearly 10,000 children were vaccinated.

The average is the critical action threshold set by the Federal Health Office.

The number of reported cases of meningitis in canton Bern has also risen substantially in the past three months. Twenty-six cases were reported in 2000, while 16 have already been recorded for the first three months of this year.

“We expect about 60 to 80 cases by the end of the year,” Anthony Seiler, chief medical officer for canton Bern, reported to swissinfo.

“In the past five years,” he said, “the frequency of meningitis has increased dramatically. So we need to be prepared for a possible vaccination campaign next year.”

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR