Vigilance urged in wake of rise in meningitis cases

The head of a national meningitis support and awareness organisation is appealing to the public to be vigilant in the wake of an increase in meningococcal disease (the leading cause of meningitis in this country ) recently.

Siobhan Holohan, the chief executive of ACT for Meningitis which is based in Galway, and who lost her four-year-old daughter to the condition in 2008, said the charity was saddened to learn from HSE figures that there have been 11 cases of meningococcal disease reported nationally since the last week in December. Three of those affected died.

Eight of the cases were reported in the first week of 2019, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC ) which is part of the HSE. It said the recent cases occurred in Dublin and other regions (a breakdown of areas is not available ) and provisional data on the strain types identified since week 52 of 2018 indicated that different strains of the organism are circulating and causing the disease. All age groups were affected, ranging from infants to older people. None of the patients with meningococcal disease had contacts or links with each other. The HPSC stated it is very unusual for the condition to spread from person to person, especially outside of close household contact.

Ms Holohan said the recent increase in numbers is a cause for concern and it is important that the public are aware of the symptoms of this serious illness.

“We are extremely saddened to hear of three deaths to meningococcal disease in Ireland in recent weeks. Our thoughts are with the families and close friends of the deceased at this very difficult time. Knowing the signs and symptoms, ensuring vaccinations are up to date and trusting your instincts are the best forms of protection against this disease.”

ACT for Meningitis highlighted the fact that anyone of any age can contract meningitis but the high risk ages are under five years, those aged 16 to 24 years, and people over 65.

“Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicaemia (blood poisoning ) Meningitis and septicaemia can often happen together and symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.

“Early symptoms of meningitis can include fever, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, fever with cold hands and feet, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and a rash. Meningitis does not always produce a rash so if someone is ill and appears to be getting worse rapid medical attention is vital if you suspect meningitis. The symptoms may be difficult to spot as many of the early symptoms can be similar to those of a flu so we ask people to trust their instincts and remain vigilant this winter.”

She said meningitis is more common in winter. “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 your immune system making you more susceptible to the disease.”

She outlined that now is a good time to ensure your child’s vaccination programme is up to date. “If in doubt clarify it with your general practitioner.”

ACT for Meningitis was set up in 2011 by Siobhan and Noel Carroll following the tragic loss of their daughter Aoibhe to meningitis. Siobhan said losing her changed their lives forever and they wanted to try and prevent another family going through that heartbreak.

They felt there was an urgent need for greater awareness about the condition as wel as support for those affected.

ACT for Meningitis provides free support services to children, adults, families, and communities throughout the country with their Meningitis Community Care Programme. “Wherever you are in the country, if you have been affected by meningitis either through bereavement or living with the severe after affects of the disease, we will provide free support services and therapies tailored to your needs, within your own community and without a waiting list.”

The charity also runs annual awareness campaigns in crèches, schools, colleges, clubs, and workplaces, and provides free meningitis awareness training programmes to pharmacies and medical professionals.

For further information on meningitis, to get a free meningitis awareness card, or to access any of the organisation’s support services contact Act for Meningitis at (091 ) 380058 or log on to [email protected]

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