A 20-year-old Swiss army recruit has been hospitalised in Thun after contracting meningitis. Other isolated cases among army recruits have also reported in the past few weeks.This content was published on April 27, 2000 - 18:03
A 20-year-old Swiss army recruit has been hospitalised in Thun after contracting meningitis. Other isolated cases among army recruits have also reported in the past few weeks.
Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria. Vaccines exist, but they are not currently effective against all types of meningitis bacteria. New vaccines expected soon may improve that situation.
On the issue of regularly vaccinating all new Swiss army recruits, the Swiss Federal Health Office estimates that an average of one case a year could be prevented if this were done.
The Health Office will continue to monitor the situation carefully, although any decision to implement such a mass vaccination policy rests with the defence ministry.
In the meantime, 200 people who may have come into contact with the stricken recruit in Thun have been given antibiotics as a precautionary measure.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the World Health Organisation says 250 cases and 60 deaths have been reported in Saudi Arabia in an outbreak of meningitis during this year's Moslem Haj pilgrimage.
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by bacteria, and typically takes three to four days to manifest.
The initial symptoms are similar to influenza, and include intense headache, high fever, stiffness in the neck, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Outbreaks can occur at any time, although there is a noticeable increase in incidence in the winter and spring. For reasons not yet fully understood, meningitis usually strikes children and young people in particular.
The World Health Organisation classifies meningitis as potentially fatal, and to be regarded as a medical emergency when encountered. The disease responds to antibiotic treatment if begun early. But of the estimated 1.2 million cases annually worldwide, 135,000 still result in death.
Meningitis is endemic in the temperate and tropical climates, and has appeared in such diverse places as the United States and Canada, Spain, Mongolia, and New Zealand. But in the most recent pandemic, which began in 1996, Central and West Africa was most affected.
Outbreaks of meningitis are common wherever large groups are together in close, warm quarters. Many people carry the meningitis bacteria without contracting the disease themselves, and can pass it on to others in much the same way as the common cold or influenza is spread.
People with weakened immune systems or in a generally reduced state of health are especially susceptible. Against this background, the recent outbreak in Saudi Arabia is considered typical.
by Bob Zanotti