Meningitis cases in Hong Kong in shock after latest illnesses

Image copyright Sowetan Image caption The first case involved a young girl who attended Freshwater High School

A 12-year-old girl from Hong Kong has been diagnosed with the meningitis B strain of the Meningitis B virus, according to Hong Kong health authorities.

A 12-year-old boy who went to the same school was also suspected to have contracted the disease, the city’s Health Department said.

Meningitis is a common infection of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.

Both cases are said to be serious but not life-threatening.

Parents are being urged to check their children’s vaccinations and to check the school was properly disinfected before sending them back.

What is Meningitis B?

The Meningitis B virus is commonly spread to humans by the bite of infected flies, making the spread more likely during prolonged hot and humid weather and when people are coughing or sneezing.

Meningitis B is different from other forms of meningitis and usually affects youngsters. It does not cause any permanent damage to the brain and spine. But it can sometimes lead to brain damage.

People who are immunised against the infection are less likely to contract the disease.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The meningitis B bug differs from other forms of meningitis in that it can be picked up from breathing and kissing, or by touching equipment contaminated with the bug

How widespread is the disease?

Last year, meningitis cases in Hong Kong were slightly above average at 66.

There have been five cases in the past year, but previous years have seen far fewer. Last year, only 11 people contracted the illness, compared with 47 in 2015 and 60 in 2014.

What happens now?

The two young patients will be transferred to specialist hospitals in New York City to be treated.

“In the best case, the disease will be contained to Hong Kong,” Thomas Chan, director of the Health Department’s Meningitis Control Center, told reporters.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Meningitis B bug can spread between people through the bite of infected flies

Both the patient from Hong Kong and the boy who went to Freshwater High School will be given medication to help control the infection.

Mr Chan said around 20% of people who contracted the virus had developed disease requiring serious treatment.

It is unusual for a South African school to have a case of meningitis B, but small outbreaks can happen in a number of countries worldwide.

The last time a child in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the meningitis B strain was in 2011, when a six-year-old girl and two year-old boy were diagnosed.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The type of meningitis that the South African school student got is more common in young children

How common is meningitis in Hong Kong?

In 2014, the National Meningitis Programme released a guide for parents. It showed:

Four out of five cases in Hong Kong are caused by meningitis B.

Children at highly-populated schools are at particular risk of being infected.

Unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children are particularly at risk.

Infants and small children account for 80% of cases.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Do you need to take your children’s vaccines?

What about protection against the meningitis B?

There are multiple vaccines available to protect children and young adults against meningitis B.

If a child or young adult is an appropriate age for meningitis vaccinations, the shot usually will be given around the time of their first birthday.

What do you need to know about the Menactra?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Menactra vaccine is given by mouth and protects against meningitis B

Meningitis B cases that require medical intervention often occur in young, healthy children aged 0 to 5 years of age.

These cases are extremely rare, but it is the infection’s rapid onset that creates such a high risk for children and young adults, which has led to the recent campaign on vaccinations.

Cases of meningitis B in younger children are very rare and usually occur in hospitals as a result of being born prematurely.

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