HSE warns public as two die after contracting meningitis

Public asked to watch for symptoms as four cases detected in different parts of country

The Health Service Executive has warned the public to be vigilant for symptoms of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia following the deaths of two people who contracted the disease.

In a public health notice, the HSE said it was investigating four cases of the disease reported in the last week of September. Three cases were confirmed and one remains a possible case.

Two of the people, including a young woman in Limerick, died of bacterial meningitis, which causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

“The cases were reported from 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 HSE said in the notice.

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“Close contacts are being identified by public health and will be provided with antibiotics to prevent infection and will also be offered vaccine if appropriate.”

Bacterial meningitis is less common but usually more serious than viral meningitis and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics. Infection may be accompanied by septicaemia, or blood poisoning. The bacteria lives naturally in the nose and throat of healthy people without causing illness and the spread is caused by droplets from the nose and mouth.

According to the HSE, the illness occurs most frequently in young children and adolescents, usually as isolated cases.

Early symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia include fever, headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, drowsiness, discomfort from bright light, diarrhoea, muscle pain, stomach cramps and fever with cold hands and feet.

A rash of pinprick-type marks may appear and can spread to form bruises or blood blisters if left untreated. The HSE has warned people not to wait for a rash and advised anyone who is ill with these symptoms or who is deteriorating to 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,” the health service said.

A vaccine to prevent infection by meningococcal B disease was introduced in Ireland for all children born on or after October 1st, 2016, because children under one year are at highest risk. All children are offered the vaccine at two and four months of age with a booster administered at 12 months.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent