A vaccine against meningitis B is now available in the UAE.
Doctors said this will be welcome news to parents, who have until now travelled overseas to have their children vaccinated against the strain.
Since its launch in 2013, Bexsero has proved highly effective at reducing cases of meningitis B in countries where it has been added to the immunisation schedule.
Bacterial meningitis can attack the brain and spinal cord.
It has a high fatality rate and can cause serious long-term health issues in survivors, including hearing loss and learning disabilities.
“Young children under the age of five and adolescents are most at risk as the bacteria spreads by close contact,” said Dr Misha Sahu, a consultant paediatrician at HealthBay Polyclinic in Dubai, which offers the vaccine.
Bexsero is also available at Harley Street Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, among others.
Dr Joanne Saade, a specialist in general paediatrics and adolescent medicine at Harley Street, said it is included in the immunisation schedule of several countries, including the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, some regions of Australia and for adolescents in the US.
She said it may be of interest to parents whose families travel to these countries, where meningitis B is found more frequently, to protect them on their visits home.
“Anyone who is from these countries, where it is mandatory in their schedule, should be vaccinated against it here in the UAE,” Dr Saade said.
One in 10 meningitis B patients die
And it should be at the age recommended in their home country's schedule, she said.
“For example, in the UK where it is recommended at eight weeks, they should come and get it for their children at eight weeks.”
Around one in 10 people who become ill with the disease die, and one in five suffer severe complications. In the era before antibiotics, the infection killed between 70 per cent and 85 per cent of sufferers, experts say.
The infection is most prevalent in the so-called meningitis belt, which stretches across Sub-Saharan Africa. But cases can and do occur anywhere.
There are several strains of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria that can cause meningitis, with A, C, W, X, Y and B accounting for most cases.
Meningitis B is the most common strain in Europe and one of the leading fatal infectious diseases in children there.
In the Middle East, strains A, W and Y are most prevalent, said Dr Sahu. But meningitis B still poses a risk.
“As we know, the UAE is a hub for travellers, so we expect changes in disease serotypes [a distinguishable strain of a microorganism] over the years,” she said.
Dr Sahu particularly recommends the vaccine to very young patients and adolescents leaving to study abroad – another group at higher risk of the disease.
Recent data on the occurrence of meningitis in the UAE is scant, but in the first half of 2011 there were 42 reported cases of bacterial and viral meningitis in Abu Dhabi, authorities reported. None were fatal.
In 2010, 75 cases were recorded in the capital.
A study carried out in Al Ain from 2000 to 2005 found there had been 92 cases over the period, 53 per cent of which were bacterial in origin and 37 per cent were viral.
N meningitidis caused 35 per cent of bacterial cases, followed by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria at 16 per cent.
The cause could not be identified in the remainder. The peak occurrence was in children less than a year old.
Several vaccines against meningitis are available in the UAE.
They include Menactra, which targets the strains A, C, W, and Y, and is not included in the immunisation schedule, plus shots against the bacteria Haemophilus Influenzae B and pneumococcal disease. These are on the list.
Bexsero has been part of the routine immunisation schedule in the UK for children aged two months, four months and 12 months since 2015.
A study there found there had been a 62 per cent reduction in cases of meningitis B after three years.
The UK government estimates around 277 of the expected 446 cases between 2015 and 2018 were prevented because of the vaccination programme.