By means of Briac Trebert
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The Pasteur Institute sounds the alarm on the return of meningococcal meningitis. This potentially fatal infection of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord is experiencing an “unprecedented resurgence” in France.
A trend observed since the cessation of health measures for Covid-19 explains the basis in a long study published Tuesday, November 14, 2023.
A call to expand the vaccine to adolescents
After reviewing the National Meningococcal Reference Center database – which includes all cases of meningococcal meningitis in France since 1980 – the Pasteur Institute calls for expand the vaccine to adolescentsparticularly affected.
Meningococcal meningitis experienced an unprecedented recovery in the fall of 2022, with today, in the fall of 2023, a number of cases higher than in the period prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While 298 cases were recorded between January and September 2019, 421 cases have already been registered between January and September 2023. A 36% increase in cases, “Even though the winter peak has not yet occurred”worries the institute.
A decrease in general immunity and vaccination
There are two main explanations for this: first a decrease in general immunity scientists point to the reduction in species circulation.
Then the decline in vaccination. For example, vaccination against meningococcal C during the first birth reduced this by 20%.
“The population has once again become naive towards constantly evolving bacteria, whose genomes are particularly variable,” the researchers analyze.
Meningococci of groups W and Y appeared much more numerous than the others after the pandemic (…) If the tetravalent vaccine against meningococci of groups A, C, Y and W were recommended for adolescents, it would protect them directly, but also indirectly also protect other people. categories of the population.
The flu promotes this resurgence
Although the new reported cases are mainly linked to groups of meningococci that were less common before the pandemic, they are now of concern more 16-24 year oldsThey insist.
This resurgence of meningitis could also increase in the coming months due to the seasonal flu epidemic. “The flu virus creates a context favorable to the development of meningococcal bacteria”the Pasteur Institute warns, especially on the eve of the Olympic Games in Paris.
And all large gatherings are also conducive to infection in general and the spread of meningococcal meningitis in particular.
Meningococcal infections: a high mortality rate
Meningitis? It is an infection of the coverings around the brain, the meninges, caused by various types of viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Meningitis is in most cases viral – and generally benign in patients who do not suffer from an immunodeficiency – but can also be of bacterial origin: this is the case with meningococcal meningitis.
Meningococci are the main causes of acute meningitis. Meningococcal infections have a high mortality rate of 10% despite treatment, and a high epidemic potential, the Pasteur Institute emphasizes.
Meningococcal meningitis generally occurs in early childhood (maximum incidence in children under one year old) and in adolescents and young adults (between 16 and 24 years old) and is accompanied by an infectious syndrome (fever, headache, vomiting) and meningeal syndrome (neck stiffness, lethargy, decreased consciousness, even coma).
Transmission occurs from person to person through close and prolonged contact. About one in ten people in the general population (but one in three adolescents) are carriers of meningococcus without showing symptoms of the disease. However, after respiratory infection, meningococci can spread throughout the body via the bloodstream.
High fever, severe headache, vomiting, neck stiffness, light sensitivity, red or purple spots (purpura) are the main symptoms. This unpredictable and devastating disease can cause death within 24 hours without prompt treatment.
Vaccination against meningococcal group C is mandatory
Nowadays in France only vaccination against meningococcal group C is mandatory in all babies born since January 1, 2018.
On the other hand, the health insurance company notes, vaccination against invasive infections due to serogroup B meningococci is simple recommended for all babies.
Unlike certain countries such as Great Britain, there are no recommendations yet for the general population against groups Y and W. However, since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is these latter strains that are responsible for most meningitis.
The researchers, who are currently working with the High Authority for Public Health (HAS), therefore recommend extending the tetravalent vaccine, targeting meningococcal groups A, C, Y and W, to adolescents, the main healthy carriers of meningococci.
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