Be vigilant, meningitis experts warn

HEALTH experts today warned families in the east to be extra vigilant in detecting the signs of meningitis after figures revealed cases of the disease increased over the winter period.

HEALTH experts today warned families in the east to be extra vigilant in detecting the signs of meningitis after figures revealed cases of the disease increased over the winter period.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) East of England reported a total of 142 probable cases of meningitis in the last year - of which 41 were recorded between December 2008 and mid-January 09.

In Suffolk, 17 of the 25 probable cases reported before mid January were confirmed to be meningococcal disease.

Nationally, figures show a rise in cases during December and January, with 252 confirmed cases of Group B meningococcal infection (MenB), compared to 191 cases in the same period last year and 142 in 2007.

Dr Joe Kearney, HPA regional director said the agency tends to see an increase in meningococcal infection during the winter months: “People everywhere, especially parents of young children, should be aware of the signs and symptoms,” he advised. “If you suspect that someone has meningococcal disease, call the doctor immediately. If the doctor isn't available, take the patient to the nearest accident and emergency department. Prompt action is vital.

“The symptoms are not always present and this can be a problem, particularly in identifying the disease in babies and very young children.

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“If a baby is obviously ill or distressed, parents should seek medical help immediately. Don't take a chance with your child's health.”

Many healthy people pick up the germ and carry it in their throat, but it does them no harm. Most do not develop the disease but a very small number of people are highly vulnerable. There are no tests which will identify those who may develop meningitis.

If infection is diagnosed early and treated promptly, most people make a full recovery.

There is a vaccine available to prevent group C meningococcal disease but a vaccine is currently not available to protect against the group B strain, which is the most common cause of meningitis in the UK.

The Meningitis Trust has a 24-hour nurse-led helpline which can be contacted on 0800 028 1828.

Have you been affected by meningitis? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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