This week a new study, jointly funded by Meningitis Now and Meningitis Research Foundation, has confirmed that Public Health England’s Meningococcal Reference Unit (MRU) presents a true picture of national trends in meningococcal infection (the UK’s leading cause of meningitis) in near real time.
The continuing decline in reported cases of meningococcal disease had raised concerns that the national surveillance programme in England might be missing a substantial number of cases, particularly due to increasing use of private laboratories by some hospitals. This study dispels that concern. By linking data from the MRU, private laboratories, hospital admissions and death registrations, the research team, led by Dr Shamez Ladhani confirmed that the majority of confirmed cases are captured by the current national surveillance in England.
During 2007–11, MRU confirmed 5115 cases of meningococcal disease in England. There were 95 private laboratory reports of meningococcal disease over that entire period, of which only 44 were additional to those already tested at MRU.
Linking the data to hospital admissions identified an additional 2792 people who were admitted to hospital with suspected meningococcal disease. A proportion of these cases will have had clinically diagnosed meningococcal disease without laboratory-confirmation, although around half subsequently tested negative for meningococcal disease and had unusually short hospital stays. This is very reassuring because it goes to show that there is heightened awareness of meningococcal disease amongst clinicians.
The past few months have seen the introduction of two new meningococcal vaccines (MenB and MenACWY) into the childhood and teenage immunisation programmes, so it is critical that we have a robust surveillance like the one provided by the MRU.
Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Now are proud to have supported this research which gives us confidence that national surveillance of meningococcal disease in England accurately captures disease trends. This is crucial for assessing the success of nationally implemented immunisation programmes which is particularly relevant at the moment with the recent introduction of the MenB vaccine for infants and the MenACWY vaccine for teenagers.