Brain bug deaths not linked

THREE young children who died from suspected meningitis in Ipswich in the last three weeks, two within 24-hours, are unlikely to have infected each other, health experts have said.

Lizzie Parry

THREE young children who died from suspected meningitis in Ipswich in the last three weeks, two within 24-hours, are unlikely to have infected each other, health experts have said.

On December 14, 11-month-old Ellie Parsons, of Felixstowe Road, was the first baby to be struck down by the disease.

Then on New Year's Eve, two-year-old toddler Rhianna Warner, of Damselfly Road, died from the same bug and just a day later her playmate Kyron Vince, of Hawke Road, became the third victim.

But despite the geographical cluster of deaths in south-east Ipswich, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has said it is unlikely they are linked and moved to reassure parents of young children in the area.

They have confirmed the death of Ellie Parsons is not related to the most recent deaths over the New Year, and they are awaiting confirmation from laboratory tests regarding the strain of the disease from the deaths of Rhianna and her friend, expected early next week.

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In a statement from the HPA they said they “can confirm that three children from the Ipswich area have died from suspected meningitis.

“The first child died in mid-December 2009. At present it is not believed this case is linked to the most recent deaths.”

Torbjorn Sundkvist , consultant in communicable disease control at the HPA's health protection unit, said at present they have no evidence linking all three cases.

He said: “Our thoughts are with the families of these children at this terrible time. Currently we have received no information that would link all three cases but we are continuing to investigate.”

He reassured the public that all those close family members and friends of the three babies have been treated with antibiotics as a precaution at a time of year when there can be an increase in the chances of contracting the disease.

“Meningitis does not spread easily from one person to another, but we do occasionally see cases spread between close contacts such as family members,” he added. “When a case of meningitis is diagnosed, the public health doctor will make sure that all those who need antibiotics are contacted.

“Meningitis can be a very serious illness which develops rapidly. We do tend to see an increase in meningococcal infection at this time of year and it's important that people everywhere, especially parents of young children, are aware of the signs and symptoms.”

A leading charity, has urged to parents to remain vigilant to the symptoms of the potentially deadly disease, in light of the Ipswich outbreak.

Meningitis UK's chief executive Steve Dayman, who lost his son to the illness in 1982, said the condition can easily be confused with colds and flu, reiterating the importance of early recognition, diagnosis and prompt treatment by health professionals.

He said: “To lose a child to a terrible disease like this is the biggest emotional challenge a parent can face and my heart goes out to the families of all three children.

“While it's important not to panic, people need to be alert to the disease's symptoms and act swiftly if they're concerned.

“In several of these cases it sounds like tell-tale symptoms were missed at the hospital and the children were sent home.

“Health professionals need to make sure they're alert to all the signs because of the speed at which meningitis strikes, sometimes killing in under four hours.

“Meningitis should always be a major consideration because early diagnosis and hospital treatment can mean the difference between life and death.”

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord.

Symptoms of the disease can appear in any order, and some may not appear at all.

In the early stages, the signs and symptoms can be similar to more common illnesses, for example flu.

Early symptoms include a raised temperature, severe headaches, nausea, vomiting and muscle pain with cold hands and feet.

A rash of red-purple spots which does not fade with pressure, is a sign of meningococcal septicaemia.

Other symptoms include difficulty or pain when looking at light, neck stiffness, drowsiness or confusion and back or joint pains.

Meningitis can affect anyone of any age, however babies, children under the age of five, young people aged 16-24 and the elderly are most at risk.

If you are concerned about the symptoms displayed by a family member seek advice from your GP in the first instance, or phone NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or call the Meningitis Trust which has a 24-hour nurse-led helpline on 0800 028 18 28.

Meningitis UK is offering the public free symptoms information packs including a leaflet with all the facts and frequently asked questions, plus a 'Check the Symptoms' fridge magnet and a handy wallet-sized symptoms card.

To order your free symptoms information pack, please call 0117 373 73 73 or visit .