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10th Jan 2019

HSE has warned people to be vigilant about meningitis following an increase in cases

Amy Nolan

HSE has warned people to be vigilant about meningitis following an increase in cases

There have been three fatalities in recent weeks.

The Health Service Executive has issued a warning to parents and the general public to be vigilant following an increase in the number of meningitis reportings.

Parents, in particular, are being urged to check their children’s vaccination records following 11 diagnosed cases and three fatalities directly attributed to the infection between the last week of 2018 and the first week of 2019. This is more than a 50 percent increase from last year’s figures from the same period.

Meningitis should be treated as a medical emergency because bacterial meningitis can lead to septicaemia (blood poisoning), which can be fatal.

Bacterial meningitis is the more serious form of the condition and symptoms usually begin suddenly and rapidly get worse.

Early symptoms of bacterial meningitis in adults include:

  • A severe headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

These can develop into drowsiness, confusion and even fits if left untreated.

In babies and young children, symptoms are different and comprise of things like:

  • Becoming floppy and unresponsive, or stiff with jerky movements
  • Unusual crying
  • Vomiting and refusing feeds
  • Pale and blotchy skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Staring expression
  • Very sleepy with a reluctance to wake up

Viral meningitis is indicated by more flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fever and generally not feeling well, but it is only possible to distinguish between bacterial and viral meningitis by carrying out clinical tests. It is not possible to tell the difference from the symptoms alone. Therefore, every case of suspected meningitis should be treated as a medical emergency.

Even though people typically associate meningitis with a non-blanching rash that doesn’t fade under pressure, Dr Suzanne Cotter of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) urged people to not wait for a rash to appear. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland she said:

“If someone is ill and getting worse, get medical help immediately.”

She also speculated as to why there is an increase in the number of cases saying:

“Maybe people thought the children got the vaccines or they didn’t go for their last visit, the 13-month visit.”

For a full list of symptoms and more information regarding meningitis, visit the HSE’s website and if you suspect a case of bacterial meningitis, you should phone 999 immediately to request an ambulance.