PHUKET: In the first seven months of this year, 15 people have died in Thailand of meningococcal meningitis. Of these deaths, two were in Phuket. The highest rate of infection was in the South, where 16 people contracted the disease. Six of them died. Next was Central Thailand, where 13 were infected, resulting in another six deaths. In the North and Northeast combined, 14 were infected and three died. In Phuket, four people contracted the disease – two Thais and two Burmese. Two of them died. Phuket has been free of reported cases of meningococcal meningitis for the past three years; the last reported case was in 1997 when a man from Rawai contracted it but survived. Meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord. In the case of meningococcal meningitis, the disease is caused by bacteria which many healthy people carry in their throats. The bacteria can be transmitted from one person to another by coughing or breathing. While the bacteria cause mild symptoms or no symptoms at all in most people, in some cases infection will develop into the more serious, potentially deadly form of the disease. Meningococcal meningitis develops very fast, but can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics if recognized in time. Dr Boonrieng Chuchaisangrat, chief of the Phuket Provincial Health Office, has advised the public to take the following measures to protect themselves from the disease: * Stay away from crowds. * Watch out for severe headaches and chills, and muscle spasms and pain in the legs and back. If these symptoms persist, it is important to contact a doctor. * Because the disease can develop very quickly, if you have been in contact with an infected person go for a check-up immediately. Dr Boonrieng said that there have also been 73 cases of malaria recorded in Phuket in the same period. Of these, 42 were Thais and 31 were foreign laborers.
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