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HSE warning after three die of infection that causes meningitis and septicaemia

Eleven cases of what is known as ‘meningococcal disease’ have been reported since the last week in December.

Image: Shutterstock/Sirirat

THE HSE HAS issued a warning about a dangerous infection that causes meningitis and septicaemia after the deaths of three people.

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.

“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.

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.

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. 

Provisional data indicates that different strains of the organism are circulating and causing disease. All age groups have been affected, ranging from infants to elderly. Of the three patients who died, two different strain types were identified.

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 218 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.

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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 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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