NHS in Crisis: Meningitis Outbreak - Public warned as disease takes two more lives

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The Independent Online
HEALTH EXPERTS are warning the public to watch out for the symptoms of meningitis after two more deaths from the disease were confirmed yesterday. At least nine fatal cases have been reported over Christmas and the New Year, with most of the victims children or teenagers.

Experts said December and January typically see an increase in meningitis reports, and warned people to be alert for the early signs of the bug.

Anne Marie Delrosa, campaign manager for the Meningitis Trust, said: "December or early January are the peak times for meningitis cases - you might see an increase from the average of 38 cases a week to around 70.

"It's important people are vigilant at this time of year. They need to contact a doctor as soon as symptoms appear."

The symptoms of meningitis include severe headache, vomiting, joint and muscle pains and an aversion to bright light. A rash that does not disperse under pressure indicates meningococcal septicaemia, which is fatal in about 20 per cent of cases.

It was confirmed yesterday that a five-month-old boy and a 42-year- old woman, both from south Wales, had become the disease's latest victims. Doctors said the baby, from Dinas Powis, near Cardiff, was taken ill over Christmas and died in Cardiff's University Hospital from the serious meningococcal strain. The female patient, of Taffs-well, near Cardiff, died in East Glamorgan Hospital.

Last night it was also reported that two children and a 29-year-old woman from the Wigan area of Greater Manchester had died from the disease. Public health officials were not making any link between the three deaths, even though the victims lived within two miles of each other.

Jack Williamson, three, was taken ill on Christmas Day and died at the Royal Manchester Children's hospital within 24 hours. A second child from the same area, who has not been named, died the same weekend. On 2 January, Maria Edwards of Atherton, near Wigan, also fell ill and died.

A 15-year-old girl was critically ill in hospital last nightafter contracting the disease.The girl - who has not yet been named - was taken to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham on Monday after suffering from a cold. Staff immediately diagnosed meningococcal septicaemia but as there were no intensive care beds available,the girl had to be flown to a hospital in Oxford. Her symptoms soon developed into full-blown meningococcal septicaemia.

Last night the girl, from Solihull, was described as "critical but stable" in the John Radcliffe Infirmary. Dr Paul Turner, consultant public health physician at Solihull Health Authority, said: "At about 8.30am Monday she had mild symptoms of a cold. In less than eight hours this developed into full-blown meningococcal septicaemia."

The National Meningitis Trust helpline is on 0845 6000 800

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