'Trust your instincts' - Parents should act quickly on early signs of meningitis

'Trust your instincts' - Parents should act quickly on early signs of meningitis

The public is being urged to be up to date with their meningitis vaccine. Picture: iStock

Consultant microbiologist, Dr Sinead O’Donnell, is urging the public to be up to date with their meningitis vaccine and for parents to trust their instincts if they feel their child could have the disease which has led to deaths in recent days.

“This is not an outbreak, these are sporadic cases, the cases are not connected,” she said.

“It is always a concern when we see young people having a meningococcal infection and very sadly, loss of life.” 

The key to preventing further cases was for people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis, which unfortunately can be confused with other symptoms like the flu, people being stressed or even a hangover.

“The very early signs can be quite non-specific, but the signs of meningitis and septicaemia that you need to be looking out for - headache, stiff neck, bright lights, muscle pain and, in the case of septicemia, a rash," Dr O'Donnell told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

"But the rash does not always happen, meningitis can happen without the rash so you need to be very vigilant in looking for the other symptoms and not waiting for the rash. 

Siobhan Carroll, chief executive of Act for Meningitis, also urged parents to trust their instincts and to be aware of the symptoms – which may appear in any order.

Ms Carroll set up the charity after the death of her four-year-old daughter Aoibhe from meningitis in 2011 within six hours of becoming ill.

“Trust your instincts, if concerned get medical attention.” 

Dr O'Donnell, who had meningitis at the age of 19, said she went from feeling unwell to being on life support in the space of 11 hours.

“It is incredibly rapid. I would not be here today if it were not for my friends checking on me, trusting their instincts that there was something wrong. I could not have done that for myself.

“This is not something that you can deal with at home, it is also something that is very treatable with antibiotics, it is not a resistant organism, it just means you have to get to a hospital, get lots of antibiotics on board quickly.

"We're in a very different situation now than we were in the 90s when this was more usual. Now we have very effective vaccines.

"Be up to date with vaccines, and act if you have a suspicion that this person might have meningitis.” 

Meningitis and septicaemia can often happen together. The symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all. Symptoms include:

  • Fever 
  • Headache 
  • Neck stiffness 
  • Vomiting 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Discomfort from bright light
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Fever with cold hands and feet 
  • A rash may appear, which looks like pin-prick type marks which if untreated can spread to form bruises or blood blisters. 

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