Meningitis cases in England more than double in a year – signs to spot

Meningitis: Dr Hilary outlines the main symptoms

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Health charity Meningitis Now have uncovered that the number of IMD cases in England have gone from 80 to 205 within 12 months. Utilising data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), between July 2021 to June 2022, the charity’s chief executive shared his concern. Dr Tom Nutt said: “These new figures are very concerning and indicate that there is still some way to go in our battle to defeat this disease.”

He added: “For much of this time the country was still in lockdown when many of us were isolating or practising social distancing.

“As these restrictions eased, meningitis cases have in turn risen from what had been a historic low in the previous year.

“We did expect that cases of meningitis would increase following the pandemic, but these new figures indicate that there is still more to be done.

“We all need to remain aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis so that people know to act quickly and to seek urgent medical help to save lives.”

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Meningococcal disease

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains the condition is caused by bacteria, called Neisseria meningitidis.

The bacterial infection is spread by sharing respiratory and throat secretions, such as saliva or spit.

“The two most common types of meningococcal infections are meningitis and septicemia,” the CDC adds.

“Both of these types of infections are very serious and can be deadly in a matter of hours.”

Three of the “most common” symptoms of meningitis include a fever, headache, and stiff neck.

There are “often additional symptoms”, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light)
  • Altered mental status (confusion).

If the bacteria enters the bloodstream, it can multiply and damage the walls of blood vessels, which causes bleeding into the skin and organs.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest, or abdomen
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhoea
  • In the later stages, a dark purple rash.

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In response to Meningitis Now’s analysis, the UKHSA says it can not confirm or refute the figures as it has not yet published its latest health protection report.

Meningitis Now appears to have added up the data from UKHSA’s four published quarterly reports to attain its figures.

The UKHSA recorded 28 cases in July to September 2021, 65 in October to December 2021, 57 in January to March 2022, and 55 in April to June 2022, the reports show.

Furthermore, the UKHSA stated: “IMD cases in April and June 2022 were 55 percent lower than in the same, pre-pandemic, period in 2019 when 122 cases were reported.”

Dr Shamez Ladhani, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said the rise in the number of meningococcal cases were “expected”.

Dr Ladhani elaborated: “The restrictions introduced during the pandemic and social distancing measures impacted the spread of many infections, including meningococcal disease.

“Surveillance is ongoing, and the risk of meningococcal disease continues to be very low.

“We strongly encourage parents, teenagers and young adults to ensure they are aware of the symptoms and signs of meningitis and septicaemia.”

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