HSE issues meningitis warning as three die from infection

The HSE has issued a warning about a dangerous infection causing meningitis and septicaemia after the deaths of three people across the country over the last two weeks.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, the HSE is urging the public to be vigilant regarding meningococcal meningitis/septicaemia symptoms as eleven cases have been notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) since the last week in December.

Three patients diagnosed with meningococcal disease have tragically died directly due to infection, and the three deaths were directly due to this infection.

“Although meningococcal disease incidence generally increases in the winter months, the recent increase is cause for concern and 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,” said Dr Suzanne Cotter, specialist in public health medicine at the HPSC.

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"If anyone has any concerns about meningitis they should ring their GP in the first instance. Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together, and symptoms can appear in any order."

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.

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Again, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever (sometimes with cold hands and feet)
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rapid breathing
  • Severe Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Discomfort from bright light
  • Neck stiffness
  • Vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea
  • Non-blanching rash may appear which may be tiny red pinpricks that may develop to purple bruises. This rash does not fade under pressure.

The HSE advises that if anyone has any concerns or showing symptoms, they should contact their GP right away and ensure medical expertise is sought.

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What is meningitis?

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. The illness occurs most frequently in young children and adolescents, usually as isolated cases. Bacterial meningitis or septicaemia requires urgent antibiotic treatment.

Decline in uptake of child vaccinations

Parents are also advised to check that their children are up-to-date with their meningococcal vaccinations. There has been a drop in the uptake of these vaccines among children in recent years, according to the HSE.

A vaccine that protects against meningococcal C disease (MenC vaccine) is given at six months and 13 months, and meningococcal B vaccine (MenB vaccine) is given at 2, 4, and 12 months of age.

Also, adolescents are routinely offered the MenC vaccine in the first year of secondary school. Older teenagers and young adults up to the age of 23 years who never received a MenC vaccine are recommended to get the vaccine.

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Other vaccines that protect against other forms of meningitis and septicaemia are included in the routine child vaccination programme (Hib vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV)).

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