Two children die in outbreak of blood poisoning: Parents warned to be on alert for symptoms

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(First Edition)

A SIXTH child is believed to be infected with meningitis bacteria following an outbreak in Staffordshire which has killed two children and put three others in hospital.

Doctors are awaiting the results of tests on a boy who showed symptoms of infection but who is recovering. Last night, health officials said they believed there was a link between two of the cases.

Children from a nursery school attended by one of the victims, their families and other close household members have been traced and put on antibiotics as a precaution. The infected children did not have meningitis but meningococcal septicaemia, a form of blood-poisoning which is caused by the same bacterium responsible for meningococcal meningitis (inflammation of membranes covering the brain).

Although forms of the disease can occur simultaneously, in some cases the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, multiply in the bloodstream and do not infect the brain. According to the National Meningitis Trust the symptoms may be similar, but the child becomes unwell more rapidly, very feverish, and may fall into a coma.

The North Staffordshire Health Authority last night warned parents to be on the alert for symptoms of meningitis and the related infection which include high fever, vomiting, a purple rash, stiff neck and an aversion to light. Meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia require emergency treatment with large doses of intravenous antibiotic drugs.

Dr Myrtle Summerley, public health director, said that there were suggestions of a possible link between one of two children who died during the week, and one of the three recovering in hospital. 'We have got to establish whether it was the same organism involved. We won't really know until we get the bacterial evidence that it was the same strain and that could take several days.'

Meningococcal bacteria is carried in the nose and throat of about 10 per cent of the population who are not aware of it and experience no symptoms. It is not known why it invades body tissues and the bloodstream in some cases.

About 2,000 people are affected each year, mostly young adults.