Inquiry launched after meningitis kills three

12th February 1999 at 00:00
THE Government is setting up a new group to study meningitis in Wales following the latest outbreak in which three people died, including a schoolteacher and pupil.

Youngsters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Kent were also being treated for the disease as health experts warn cases have reached a 50-year-high. It has claimed at least 35 deaths this year.

On Tuesday 1,800 pupils and staff at the three schools in Wales were inoculated against the potentially fatal brain disease.

Pupils began half-term early at Coed-y-Lan comprehensive in Pontypridd, the school attended by Gareth Gould, 15, the first victim of the latest outbreak .

Headteacher Phil Raybould has been on call since Sunday, when the latest two of five cases of meningitis among his 1,100 pupils were confirmed.

The school which, with neighbouring primary Trerobart, has been at the centre of media attention was still struggling to come to terms with Gareth's death.

Mr Raybould said: "He died incredibly suddenly. He was in on Friday and dead by early Sunday morning. That was a huge shock to the school and totally unexpected," says Mr Raybould.

"Gareth was a lovely, delightful young lad. He loved school so much his mother wanted him buried in his school uniform. At his funeral, most of the staff were there and hundreds and hundreds of pupils. We really thought that was the end of it.

"I remember thinking, this nightmare is over. Then I got this telephone call that night saying there were another two cases."

Two more pupils succumbed to the bug on Sunday, prompting Bro Taf health authority to intervene. It wasn't convinced the school would get much response from pupils and parents on a Sunday.

There are so many different strains of the disease that, as with the common cold, there is no blanket inoculation programme for children.

The health authority is currently treating the death of teacher Lynne James, 50, head of economics at nearby Cardinal Newman RC comprehensive, as unrelated.

One of Coed-y-Lan's pupils, a 16-year-old boy, was still critically ill but was improving as The TES went to press. Three others, along with two Trerobart pupils, are recovering well.

Meningitis symptoms may not all occur at the same time. They include:

* Vomiting.

* Fever.

* Headache.

* Stiff neck.

* Aversion to light.

* Drowsiness.

* Joint pain.

* Fits.

* A rash of spots or bruises that do not turn white when pressed. National Meningitis Trust 24-hour helpline: 0845 6000 800

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