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Editor,—In May 1999, prior to the meningococcal C campaign, we designed a questionnaire to ascertain knowledge about meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia among 15/16 year olds. Groups of 8–10 volunteers, in each of the local state secondary schools in Bath, independently completed a short questionnaire. The school nurse then led a tutorial session, and provided handouts summarising the teaching.
We planned to return to the participating schools after a 12 month period to re-interview the students, and control groups, in order to determine whether the teaching sessions were effective in raising knowledge and awareness about meningitis. However, in August, the government announced the introduction of the meningitis C campaign. This brought the topic into the public arena. Families of adolescents received leaflets about meningitis and the vaccination programme. We therefore decided to re-administer our questionnaire in the autumn term to the original target groups of adolescents, and to age and ability matched control groups.
Of the seven schools who originally participated, three were unable to schedule sessions for a revisit. The results are tabled for the schools where the full project was completed. The initial level of knowledge shown by the groups in schools where we were unable to revisit was not significantly different from those completing the study.
Knowledge about meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia increased during the study period (see table 1). The glass test was mentioned by only 35% of the study group prior to teaching. By late October/November the level of knowledge in our control group had increased to 64% and in our study group it was 81%.
When asked “what would you do if you suspected a friend has meningitis?”, correct responses increased from 81% prior to the interviews to 87% in the control group and 97% in the study group.
The increase in knowledge in the control group has probably been due to the publicity campaign. It would seem likely that the improvement in our study group was due to the campaign plus the added effect of tutorial based teaching.
We are concerned that the positive effect may be short lived. Community paediatricians and school nurses should not feel complacent, but should be aware of the need for ongoing education on this important topic.
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