A meningitis awareness charity is urging people to be on the alert for the condition which is more common during winter.
ACT for Meningitis is advising people to trust their instincts if they suspect someone close to them may have the condition.
People most at risk from the infection are children under five years, those aged 16 to 23 and people over 55.
The national charity - founded by Galway couple Noel and Siobhan Carroll from Oranmore who lost their four-year-old daughter Aoibhe to meningitis in 2008 - says knowing the symptoms of the disease can save lives.
“There is a higher risk of meningitis during the winter months,” says Ms Carroll, the chief executive of ACT for Meningitis.
“As people spend a lot more time indoors and with close contact germs are spread more easily. Also, coming down with a cold or the ‘flu may weaken the immune system making you more susceptible to the disease.”
She outlines the symptoms may be difficult to spot as many of the earlier ones can be similar to those of flu.
“We ask people to trust their instincts and if they suspect meningitis to seek medical help immediately. Meningitis does not always produce a rash. If it does appear it will not fade under pressure. Time is of the utmost importance, meningitis can strike so quickly and can kill within hours.
“So we ask people to please act. Knowing the signs and symptoms can save a life. They may be difficult to spot as many of the early ones can be similar to those of a flu.
“The signs can include vomiting, fever, headache, stiff neck, severe muscle pain and confusion. Babies may be irritable, refuse to feed, have a high pitched cry, breathe rapidly, have cold hands and feet and a bulging soft spot on the head.”
While children and young people are most at risk anyone can get meningitis. Siobhan Carroll says now is a good time to ensure your child’s vaccination programme is up to date. “If in doubt clarify with your general practitioner.”
The ACT for Meningitis charity aims to encourage individuals, families and communities to learn the signs and symptoms of the condition, the importance of urgent treatment and that some forms can be prevented by vaccination. There is at least one case of meningitis each day in Ireland.
It is a potentially life-threatening infection which affects the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis and its associated disease, septicaemia (blood poisoning ), can kill within hours and can affect anyone at any time.
One in 10 people who contract meningitis will die. Survivors can be left with various after-effects including brain damage, blindness, deafness, limb loss (where septicaemia has occurred ), learning difficulties and behavioural issues.
About 300 cases are reported every year in Ireland. However, meningitis experts estimate this only represents half the true picture. There is no vaccine available to protect against meningococcal group B, the most common bacterial cause of the disease in Ireland.
For further information log onto www.actformeningitis.ie