'Fantastic breakthrough' in battle against killer disease


A final ruling must be made before a meningitis B vaccine, Bexsero, becomes available for use

Ireland has the highest rate of meningococcal disease in the EU and there are about 170 cases of meningitis B diagnosed here each year. But while there are no preventative measures against this strain of the disease, doctors may soon be able to offer vaccination to children at risk.

The Bexsero vaccine has just been granted licence by the European Medicines Agency and experts say the jab is likely to be effective against 73 per cent of the different variations of meningitis B.

Diane McConnell, Ireland manager of the Meningitis Research Foundation, believes this new vaccine could make a difference to children at risk all over the continent, including Ireland.

“This meningitis B vaccine marks a fantastic breakthrough in our ongoing fight against this life-threatening disease,” she says. “Ireland has the highest incidence of meningococcal serogroup B [MenB] disease in Europe, so it is vital that this vaccine be made available on the National Immunisation Programme as soon as possible to prevent further families suffering the devastating consequences of meningitis.”

The Punch family from Scarriff, Co Clare is one of those families. When Paddy and Marie Punch’s four-year-old son Jack was just eight months old, Marie put him to bed as normal, but the following morning was horrified to discover he had vomited in his cot, had a very high temperature and seemed listless and pale.

She immediately took him to her doctor who recommended a trip to the local hospital for an X-ray to rule out a lung infection. No one expected the little boy to be diagnosed with meningitis.

His lips turned blue

“I got worried when I saw the strange yellow vomit on Jack’s bed and realised that he felt really hot,” recalls Marie. “I rang my mum who said I should take him to the doctor and even though it was only 8.30am, I was seen straight away and was told to take him into Limerick for an X-ray as he had been chesty for a while.

“While we were at the hospital, Jack got sick again, then his oxygen levels dropped down to 79, his heart was racing and his lips turned blue. The doctor gave him oxygen and put a nebuliser on him as he thought he might have had pneumonia, but when the X-ray came back clear, someone suggested meningitis.

“I didn’t know what was going on, but one of the doctors noticed three faint spots on his arm and said he was going to treat him for meningitis just to be on the safe side. But I thought we would be going home the following morning.”

However, blood tests revealed that the baby was indeed suffering from meningococcal septicemia (type B meningitis) and the combined swift thinking of his mother, GP and the hospital doctor meant it had been treated early and he would make a full recovery.

“By the time Jack was diagnosed with meningitis, he had already been given two doses of the antibiotic, so the treatment was well under way,” says Marie. “Paddy and I had to be treated as well and also my cousin Jo as she had been minding him the weekend before it happened and had stayed in our house.

“We had to stay in hospital for a week because Jack had to get seven doses of the antibiotic and we were let home the following Monday afternoon. But because his immune system was so low, I had to bring him to the doctor four days after we came home as he got tonsillitis and had to be put on another antibiotic.

“And four weeks later he picked up a throat infection and had to go on another antibiotic. We have been told that he is prone to picking up things after being so sick but the doctor said that he will grow out of it.”

Difficult to spot

“Jack is now four and is big brother to Cormac who is 16 months and Katie who is just seven weeks old – we are so lucky that he is here with us today.”

The Punch family is indeed lucky that Jack was diagnosed early but symptoms of meningitis can be difficult to spot. This is why parents, doctors and the Meningitis Research Foundation are eagerly awaiting the licensing of a vaccine for use in Ireland.

The Irish Medicines Board (IMB) confirmed that the meningitis B vaccine has been given a green light but a final ruling still needs to be made before the drug becomes available for use.

“Bexsero [meningitis B vaccine] was given a positive opinion from the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use [CHMP] of the European Medicines Agency [EMA] at its November 2012 meeting following a rigorous scientific assessment, of which the IMB participated in,” says a spokeswoman. “The decision of the European Commission is awaited and this is usually issued within three months of the CHMP opinion.”

Symptoms of meningitis

Fever or vomiting

Severe headache

Limb/joint/muscle pain

Cold hands and feet/


Pale or mottled skin

Breathing fast


Stiff neck

Dislike of bright lights

Very sleepy

Confused or delirious


See meningitis.orgor call 1800 413344

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