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Mr. Hague: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I assure him that full communication is taking place with the students. They have been advised not to hold parties; all their GPs have been notified; a special ward has been opened at the University hospital, as I said a few moments ago; and the health of all residents of the hall is being carefully vetted every day.

Students who have gone home are being advised to return to Cardiff for vaccination and health surveillance, but arrangements are being made for those who are unable to return, or who do not wish to return, to be vaccinated in their home area. However, the hon. Gentleman will see from the figures I gave earlier that it must now be the case that the vast majority of students will have been vaccinated by the end of the day. I hope that any who have gone home and not been vaccinated will contact the student health service in Cardiff to make the necessary arrangements.

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The hon. Gentleman asked about the earlier incident. Most cases of this infection are sporadic, or one-off, incidents. The case on 14 October was treated as such, and the recognised preventive action was taken--the tracing of all close contacts in the home and at university hall, and the administration of antibiotics. The advice that I have received suggests that it is still unlikely that there would be any connection between the two incidents. The long interval between them would seem to suggest that the two were not related--the normal incubation period for the disease is approximately a week.

Clearly it will be important to look at the report to be compiled by the health authority on the basis of all the evidence. If anything in the report suggested that the guidelines for dealing with that infection should be changed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I would consider taking action.

Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy): May I too extend my deepest sympathy to the parents of those students who have died? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been two cases of meningitis among students at York? Will he look into any possible connection between the students at the different institutions? Will he also bear in mind the difficulty of eradicating the disease and its recurrent nature? There can be considerable differences of time between one case and the next. Will he give me an assurance that, if the disease spreads outside the university in Cardiff, he will offer injections and vaccinations to other vulnerable groups in the Cardiff area?

Mr. Hague: I have heard about the cases in York. I have seen no evidence that they are linked, although anyone who may be affected will be asked by doctors where they have been and with whom they have been in close contact in the previous days or weeks. If there were any connection, I hope that it would be discovered. My right hon. Friend is correct to point out the seriousness of the disease and the difficulty of eradicating it, particularly as it comes in at least four different forms. However, it is important to stress that infection is normally transmitted only through close bodily contact.

Medical authorities shy away from administering antibiotics to very large numbers of people in response to each individual case, because the unnecessary giving of antibiotic prophylaxis is more likely to create antibiotic resistance. The medical authorities have to strike the right balance. Clearly, it has been judged necessary to administer the antibiotics in university hall in this case. If there are further outbreaks elsewhere, each will be judged on its merits.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery): In echoing the sympathy that has already been expressed by several hon. Members, may I remind the Secretary of State that there are many anxious parents of Cardiff students, particularly throughout Wales, from where many students at the university come? Will he take steps to ensure that information about how to avoid the spread of this form of meningitis is made available to communities throughout Wales, particularly through general practitioners' surgeries, so that parents can pick up leaflets and discuss this worrying issue with their children?

Mr. Hague: Yes, I recognise that many people will be anxious. I hope that they have received and have heard

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again today my advice about students returning to Cardiff for vaccination and surveillance. A number of leaflets on meningitis have been produced, including one called "What is Meningitis?" and another called "Knowing about Meningitis and Septicaemia", both of which are available from the Welsh Office and from health authorities. They should also be available from GPs. In response to the recent outbreak, posters and leaflets on meningitis will be provided to all universities and sixth-form colleges in Wales this week.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West): My right hon. Friend has acknowledged that many students have now left Cardiff and gone home. He has outlined the measures that have been taken and are being taken to contact those students. Will he tell the House what mechanisms are being put in place to ensure that those students' local health authorities are aware that students from Cardiff have moved into their area of responsibility?

Mr. Hague: As I have made clear in answer to earlier questions, the vast majority of students will have been vaccinated by the end of today. I believe that many have been returning over the past 24 or 36 hours. The proportion of students who have not been vaccinated should be extremely small. I hope that they will return or will be vaccinated in their home areas--I have made it clear that that option is available. The GPs of all the students have been notified. That is one important channel of communication. I believe that all the necessary means of communication have been used, but I will certainly confirm that every possible means of communicating with those students has been used.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): I have a direct interest in this matter, in that two of my children are at Cardiff university and constituents of mine have children in the university hall there.

Will the Secretary of State look into whether there should have been more rapid movement over vaccinations? The original programme was for Monday, but it was pulled forward to Sunday. Should it not have been possible, and was it not necessary, to carry out the programme on Friday, given that there had been three cases in the preceding five weeks? Also, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that seven new cases are suspected today? Can he say whether all those are from the same university hall and not from elsewhere?

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that chemists in Cardiff have run out of the antibiotics and are desperately looking for further supplies? In view of all those factors, is there not a need for an in-depth investigation into what has happened?

Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions. Several cases have been under surveillance in hospital since last night, but they are not all meningitis. Only one is suspected meningitis, and, as I explained, it is a viral form, which is different from the cases that I have been discussing in my statement, so it may be an unconnected case.

As to whether there should be a greater inquiry, as I have made clear, I will await the outcome of the health authority's report, which has to be based on all the medical evidence, not all of which is immediately

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available--much of it has to be analysed in laboratories. That report will be forthcoming in a few weeks, and we will then be able to find out whether any further inquiry is needed.

As to whether the vaccination programme was carried out early enough, once a link is established between cases, the most critical thing is to administer the antibiotics quickly to the population who may be affected. That has been done. It has meant the use of a very large quantity of drugs. Of course, we will ensure that the necessary drugs are available to the students, but the programme of administering antibiotics and vaccinating has been carried out extremely quickly by the authorities, as we would expect. From what I have seen, I have no cause to criticise them.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen): How effective is the vaccination, and for what period does it provide protection? I understand that there was another case of meningitis in that hostel a year ago. Surely there must be a link between these cases. Will the right hon. Gentleman's investigation pursue in detail what that link is?

Mr. Hague: The vaccination is effective in dealing with this type of meningitis--group C, which is what the six cases are believed to be. Vaccination is not effective against group B meningitis. The hon. Gentleman must be careful when talking about different meningitis cases, because the disease has different characteristics depending on the form that it takes. There are four types of meningitis--A, B, C and Y.

Vaccination and antibiotics are effective against this form, if they are administered early enough. They are effective for sufficiently long to deal with the incubation period of the disease, although I am not sure exactly how long doctors would advise that such a vaccination would last. I can let the hon. Gentleman know about that. He should bear in mind the fact that there are normally 2,000 cases of meningitis in the UK in any given year; so it is difficult to draw connections between cases, and there are more cases than he might have suspected.

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