HSE warns public to be vigilant as cases of meningococcal disease rise

by Rachel Darcy

The HSE has warned the public to be vigilant of meningococcal meningitis/septicaemia as three people have died from the disease in recent weeks.

Some 11 cases had been notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre since the last week in December, with three patients diagnosed passing away.

The HSE have said that all three deaths were directly due to meningococcal disease.

This is compared to five cases reported at the same time last year, with 89 cases reported in total in 2018 – up 13 cases on the level reported in 2017.

Dr Suzanne Cotter, specialist in Public Health Medicine, HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said: “Although meningococcal disease incidence generally increases in the winter months, the recent increase is cause for concern.

“The HSE wishes to alert the public to the signs and symptoms of this disease so that immediate medical attention can be sought if someone has symptoms that could be caused by this bug.

“If anyone has any concerns about meningitis, they should ring their GP in the first instance.”

She warned: “Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together and symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.

“Early symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, stomach cramps, fever with cold hands and feet and a rash – but do not wait for the rash to appear.

“If someone is ill and getting worse, get medical help immediately.

“Parents of children should also check that they are up-to-date regarding their childhood meningococcal vaccinations.”

Early data on the strain types identified since late December indicates that different strains of the organism are circulating and causing disease.

All age groups have been affected, ranging from infants to the elderly. Of the three patients who died, two different strain types were identified.

None of the patients with meningococcal disease have been identified as having had contact or links with each other.

The spread of meningococcal from person to person is very unusual, especially outside of close household contact.

Meningitis is a serious illness involving inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by a variety of different germs, mainly bacterial and viruses.

Bacterial meningitis is less common but is usually more serious than viral meningitis and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics and may be accompanied by septicaemia (blood poisoning).

The bacteria live naturally in the nose and throat of normal healthy persons without causing illness, and the spread of the bacteria is caused by droplets from the nose and mouth.

Bacterial meningitis or septicaemia requires urgent antibiotic treatment.

Signs and symptoms may include a fever, sometimes accompanied by cold hands and feet, joint or muscle pain, rapid breathing, severe headaches, drowsiness, discomfort from bright light, neck stiffness, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea, and a rash that does not fade under pressure.

The HSE advises that if anyone has any concerns or showing symptoms, they should contact their GP in the first instance but ensure that medical expertise is sought.

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