Irish input into major advance on meningitis diagnosis


Irish researchers have been involved in a major breakthrough in the diagnosis of meningitis. The development, involving a new method of detecting strains of the disease, involved scientists at Temple Street Hospital in Dublin. The new diagnostic method to detect which type of meningococcal disease - meningitis and septicaemia - gives a result within 30 minutes from a blood sample, as opposed to having to wait days with more traditional methods. According to Dr Mary Cafferkey, Director of the Meningococcal Reference Laboratory at Temple Street, the trials have proven that the new method is superior to traditional culture techniques, and can also be as effective as other expensive techniques.

"Because the diagnosis can be made from blood samples alone, the need for sometimes dangerous lumbar punctures could be deferred," she said. The early administration of antibiotics to suspected cases of meningitis by family doctors and in casualty departments saved lives, she said.

"However it has decreased the likelihood of being able to grow the organism responsible. This has emphasised the importance of rapid non-culture methods. Knowing what strain of meningitis we are dealing with is important in the management of contacts and the identification of outbreaks. This new technique utilises relatively inexpensive kits and equipment," she added.

The research, to be featured on the BBC television's Tomorrow's World tonight, was funded by the Meningitis Research Foundation and also carried out at five centres in the UK.

Meanwhile it was confirmed yesterday that seven children in Northern Ireland are being treated for the disease.

Hundreds of primary school children in Ballymena, Co Antrim, were given antibiotics after two young classmates were struck down by suspected meningitis within hours of each other.

Across the county at Glengormley another young school boy was confirmed to have contracted the potentially fatal meningococcal septicemia. His condition was said to be "stable".

Two other children were being treated in Londonderry and two more, including a six month old baby, were being treated in a Belfast hospital. Northern Ireland Health Minister, Mr John McFall insisted there was not an epidemic. He said the incidents of meningitis were no higher than past years.