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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 16 January, 2019
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Meningitis: HSE expert says rate of uptake of vaccine boosters is 'very disappointing'

The HSE yesterday issued an initial warning after the deaths of three people.

Image: Shutterstock/adriaticfoto

THE HSE HAS today again urged parents to vaccinate their children following the death of three people as a result of a dangerous infection that causes meningitis and septicaemia. 

Eleven cases of what is known as meningococcal disease have been reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) since the last week in December.

Three of these patients have died and all three deaths were directly due to this infection.

Speaking at a HSE briefing on seasonal flu, assistant national director of health protection Dr Kevin Kelleher said that “this is just as much the flu time of the year as it is the meningitis time of the year as well”. 

In a statement yesterday, the HSE noted that although meningococcal disease generally increases during winter months, the recent increase is “cause for concern”, highlighting the sights of symptoms of the disease. 

Dr Suzanne Cotter, specialist in public health medicine at the HPSC, said: 

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. 
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.

Vaccination warning

It yesterday advised parents 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. 

Taking note of this today, Dr Kelleher said: “What I’ve got to say is we have got available the vaccines to cope with this problem. What is interesting is, after all the pressure around us getting vaccines to deal with meningitis, the uptake rates are not hitting the 95%. 

What is very disappointing is we have seen that the boosters that we give at 12 and 13 months are not being taken up. 

He added that “the difficulty we’re facing at the moment is the fact that we’re not getting all of the babies vaccinated properly”. 

Latest HSE data shows that, as of Q2 in 2018, the uptake rate of the first dose of MenC for babies at 12 months was 90%. The uptake for two doses of MenB at 12 months was 93% and the uptake of MenC at 24 months was 88%. 

“It’s really important that those boosters are happening. Parents do need to make sure that they get their children along twice,” Kelleher said. 

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

More than one dose of the same vaccine is sometimes given in the first few years of a child’s life. The extra doses improve the antibody response and give better long-term protection, according to the HSE. 

Booster doses of some vaccines are also given to school children to give better long-term protection.

Latest cases

Following investigation, none of the patients with meningococcal disease have been identified as having had contact or links with each other. Spread of meningococcal from person to person is very unusual, especially outside of close household contact.

In 2018 a total of 89 meningococcal cases were notified compared to 76 in 2017.  The eleven cases notified since the last week in December compared to five cases in the same time period last year. 

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.

Again, the signs and symptoms 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.

Anyone who believes they are showing symptoms is advised to contact their GP.

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy 

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