Flu increases risk of meningitis


PEOPLE RECOVERING from flu have been warned they may be at increased risk of developing other infections such as meningitis or septicemia and therefore should seek medical attention immediately if they suspect onset of symptoms of any of these conditions.

The national Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said yesterday there had been a big increase in severe cases of blood infections, some of which would include meningitis, in recent weeks coinciding with the rising number of cases of flu in the community.

It said a total of 26 cases of meningococcal disease were reported in December 2008 compared with 13 in December 2007. Most were reported in the last week of the year and six more cases have been provisionally reported for the first week of January.

In addition, 58 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease were reported at the end of December 2008 compared with 29 cases in the same period last year. Sixteen cases were reported in the last week of December and 26 cases have been provisionally notified in the first week of January. The infections have affected people in all age groups.

Dr Suzanne Cotter, a specialist in public health medicine with the centre, said while both diseases were rare, they mostly occurred in winter and could be associated with high influenza activity. “Battling the flu can affect someone’s natural immunity and may make them more vulnerable to infection with these bugs. The very young, the over- 65s or those with chronic illness may be particularly at risk,” she said.

She urged people who have recently recovered from flu and who have become very unwell again with high fever shortly after, to seek medical attention as they may be at slight risk from meningococcal and pneumococcal disease.

“Symptoms of meningococcal or pneumococcal meningitis or septicaemia in infants include high fever, floppiness, high pitched crying and sometimes vomiting. Older children and adults suffer from fever, malaise and headache, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness or difficulty rousing and a red rash may also occur. Anyone who develops any of these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention,” she advised.

Cases of flu have risen from 72.8 per 100,000 of the population in the last week of December to 100.6 per 100,000 in the first week of January. This is the highest rate seen since the 2000/2001 influenza season.

These flu infections, together with outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug, are putting increased pressure on hospitals.

Yesterday Dublin’s St Vincent’s Hospital confirmed an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug there was affecting 50 patients in a number of different wards. Visiting restrictions have been put in place in a bid to curtail its spread.