Health Warning

Meningitis alert: Parents 'shouldn't panic' but need to take quick action with sick kids

Eleven cases of a bug that causes meningitis have been reported since the last week in December and three of those patients have died.

THE HSE HAS said people do not need to panic after it issued a warning about a bug that causes meningitis, but they should seek immediate medical advice if they believe they or their children are showing symptoms.

On Wednesday, the HSE said 11 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. This bug cases meningitis and septicaemia.

Dr Suzanne Cotter specialist in public health medicine at the HPSC told that people “shouldn’t panic”. 

She said cases of this infection are not unusual, they happen every year – last year there were 89 cases – and particularly in the winter months.

Around 10% of the general population at any one time is carrying the bug at the back of their throat. Most people do not develop disease but occasionally then can, or they can pass it on to someone else who will then become ill.

She said the reason the HSE alerted people to these cases is because of the fact that there were eight cases in just one week, which is unusual.

“Back in 2,000 there was a lot of meningitis, more than 500 cases reported in a year and it was a major concern for clinicians and people were alert to it. So people knew not to sit on it, to seek medical advice. Over time we’ve seen a decrease and people forget to think about meningitis when someone is really sick so we needed to remind people. 

We don’t want to cause hysteria but we don’t want people to be complacent. Flu, which is one of the symptoms is not one people may relate to it and flu is also out now. Fever, severe headaches and photophobia are the classic things – the rash doesn’t always appear early on. 

“What we’re saying is if you feel your child or teenager or family member is really quite sick, do seek medical advice.”

Although children, older people and those with underlying conditions are most vulnerable if they get the bug, Cotter said even the fittest person can be “struck down unexpectedly”. 

She said the most important thing is early antibiotic usage to prevent the person from becoming dangerously ill. 

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 pin pricks 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.

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