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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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# Meningitis
Explainer: What is meningitis and what are the signs and symptoms to look out for?
While meningitis can affect anyone, it is most common in infancy and early childhood.

THE HSE IS reminding the public of the signs and symptoms of meningitis after three cases of meningitis were recently confirmed in the country.

Two of those affected by the illness have died, and a fourth potential case has also been identified.

The cases were reported in different regions of the country and have no known links with each other.

Three of the cases are young adults and one case is less than 10 years of age.

The health service has also launched an investigation and close contacts are being identified by public health bodies.

These close contacts will be provided with antibiotics to prevent infection and will also be offered a vaccine if appropriate.

But what is meningitis, and what are signs and symptoms to look out for?

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

Septicaemia is a form of blood poisoning caused by the same organism that causes meningitis.

Meningitis can be caused by a variety of different germs, mainly bacterial and viruses.

Bacterial meningitis, such as in these cases notified to the HSE, is less common but usually more serious than viral meningitis and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics.

Bacterial meningitis may also be accompanied by septicaemia (blood poisoning).

How is it spread?

The viruses and bacteria that cause meningitis can be spread through sneezing, coughing, and kissing.

The infection is usually spread by people who carry the infection in their nose or throat, but who are not ill themselves.

What signs and symptoms should I look out for?

Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together and the symptoms listed can appear in any order.

Some may not appear at all.

Early symptoms can include;

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Discomfort from bright light
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever with cold hands and feet

A rash may form and its appearance can vary.

It may start as tiny blood spots which look like red pin-prick type marks, which if untreated can spread to form bruises or blood blisters.

However, do not wait for a rash to appear. It may be the last sign to appear and it can spread very quickly.

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

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

Who is most at risk?

While meningitis can affect anyone, it is most common in infancy and early childhood.

There is an additional smaller peak of disease activity in adolescents and young adults.

Meanwhile, in temperate climates such as Ireland, the infection typically shows a seasonal variation, with the majority of cases occurring in winter and early spring.

Is there a vaccine available?

Meningitis can be prevented by vaccination and there has been a dramatic decline in the number of bacterial meningitis cases occurring each year as a result of vaccination.  

The MenB vaccine was introduced in Ireland for all children born on or after 1 October 2016.

All children are offered MenB vaccine at two and four months of age, with a booster dose of MenB vaccine given at 12 months.

Further information on the schedule for children born after this date is available from the HSE National Immunisation Office. 

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