The Health Service Executive (HSE) has appealed to the public to be vigilant for the symptoms of meningitis after three people died from the condition in the past three weeks.
Eleven cases of meningococcal meningitis have been notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) since the last week in December. Three of those patients died directly due to the infection.
Provisional data indicates that different strains are circulating and causing disease, with two separate strains having been identified since the last week in December. All age groups have been affected.
The 11 cases contrast with the five cases of meningococcal meningitis reported in the same time period last year. In 2018 a total of 89 meningococcal cases were reported, compared with 76 in 2017.
There were a total of seven deaths from meningococcal meningitis in 2017.
The HPSC said it had established that none of the patients with meningococcal disease had contact or links with each other. The spread of meningococcal meningitis from person to person is very unusual, especially outside of close household contact.
HPSC specialist in public health medicine Dr Suzanne Cotter said that“although meningococcal disease incidence generally increases in the winter months, the recent increase is cause for concern.
“The HSE wishes to alert the public to the signs and symptoms of this disease so that immediate medical attention can be sought if someone has symptoms that could be caused by this bug.
“If anyone has any concerns about meningitis they should ring their GP in the first instance. Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together and symptoms can appear in any order. Some may not appear at all.”
Early symptoms of meningitis can include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, stomach cramps, cold hands and feet, and a rash.
However, Dr Cotter urged people not to wait for a rash to appear before seeking medical help for the condition.
“Parents of children should also check that they are up-to-date regarding their childhood meningococcal vaccinations,” she added.
Meningitis is a serious illness involving inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by a variety of different germs, mainly bacteria and viruses.
Bacterial meningitis, such as meningococcal meningitis, is less common but is usually more serious than viral meningitis and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics.