A specialist in public health medicine is urging parents to check the vaccination records of their children after three people died from meningitis in the last three weeks.
Dr Suzanne Cotter of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) told RTE’s Morning Ireland that some parents think their children are fully vaccinated when in fact they might have missed the 13th month visit.
She also said there had been a fall off in meningitis vaccinations in comparison with other vaccinations for babies and young children.
On Wednesday, the HSE appealed to the public to be vigilant for the symptoms of meningitis after 11 cases of meningococcal meningitis were notified to the HPSC since the last week in December. Three of those patients died directly due to the infection.
The 11 cases contrast with the five cases of meningococcal meningitis reported in the same time period last year. In 2018 a total of 89 meningococcal cases were reported, compared with 76 in 2017.
Dr Cotter explained that meningitis has symptoms similar to flu and she urged the public not to disregard the symptoms which include fever, vomiting, severe abdominal cramps.
She also pointed out that there could be a pin prick rash or a bruise-like rash which could herald a very rare version of the infection.
She said that an increase in the number of meningitis cases frequently occurs in winter months, sometimes following the flu season or accompanying flu season as the flu can decrease the immune system.
Meningitis is passed from person to person and people who have it often do not know that they have it or that they have passed it on, she said. While it is relatively rare, it is a matter of concern that there has been an increase recently.
“We want to raise awareness, to let the public know that the symptoms should not be disregarded," she said.
“Time is critically important. If the classic symptoms are there, move quickly.”
Dr Cotter warned that the rash can sometimes be fleeting at the beginning of the symptoms and that they can mimic other illnesses.
If anyone is suffering symptoms such as fever, vomiting, severe abdominal cramps they should seek medical attention, she urged.