The HSE is reminding people to be vigilant about meningitis, following a recent ‘noted increase' in cases of meningococcal disease.
Eleven cases of meningococcal disease were notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in the last week of December 2018 and first week of January 2019, compared to five in the same period last year. Three of these patients unfortunately died and all three deaths were directly due to the disease.
While there have been no other confirmed cases since then, one additional possible case has been notified and is currently under investigation, the HSE noted.
Meningococcal disease is the most common form of bacterial meningitis in Ireland, causing up to 90% of all cases. The disease may present as meningitis, septicaemia (blood poisoning) or both.
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. It may be accompanied by septicaemia, which also requires urgent antibiotic treatment.
According to the HSE, while this is not an outbreak, it ‘reflects the known increased incidence of meningococcal disease in winter and early spring'.
"Among the 11 cases, different age groups were affected, different strains were reported (B, C, W, Y), different regions of the country reported the cases and there were no links found between the cases," it said.
The HSE is again urging parents to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated.
"We are advising parents to ensure their children are fully vaccinated, as per the State's Universal Immunisation Programme. It is important that parents ensure their child completes all five sessions of the Primary Childhood Immunisation Programme," commented Dr John Cuddihy, director of public health with the HSE South.
A vaccine that protects against meningococcal C disease (MenC vaccine) is given at six months and at 13 months, while the meningococcal B vaccine (MenB vaccine) is given at two, four, and 12 months of age.
In addition, young people are routinely offered the MenC vaccine in the first year of secondary school. Older teenagers and young adults up to the age of 23 years who have never received a MenC vaccine are recommended to get it.
Meanwhile, vaccines that protect against other forms of meningitis and septicaemia are included in the routine child vaccination programme (Hib vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV)). Children who have missed vaccines can obtain them from their GPs.
Signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease can include:
-Joint or muscle pain
-Fever, sometimes with cold hands and feet
-Discomfort around bright light
-A stiff neck
-A rash made up of tiny red pin pricks that may change to purple bruising. The rash does not fade under pressure, such as under a glass.
Anyone with concerns should call their GP in the first instance.
For more information on meningococcal disease and bacterial meningitis, click here