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Meningitis UK is warning parents to look out for signs of the virus as children return to the classroom. The charity says there is often a back to school surge in cases.
Doctors say the symptoms are harder to identify but include a fever while the hands and feet are cold, high pitched moaning or whimpering, blank staring, inactivity and also hard to wake up. Other symptoms include:
- Poor feeding
- Neck retraction with arching of the back
- Pale and blotchy complexion
The bacteria only rarely give rise to meningococcal disease, but when they do infection spreads rapidly and is fatal in about 10% of cases. If disease is diagnosed early and treated promptly most people make a full recovery.
About 1 in 8 people who recover experience some long term effects. These can include headaches, stiffness in the joints, epileptic fits, deafness and learning difficulties.
In 2009/10 there were 896 cases of meningococcal disease confirmed in England and Wales. 785 of these cases were confirmed as Group B and only 17 as Group C. It's not known why some people became ill while others remained symptomless 'carriers' of the bacteria.
- Disease can occur at any age. However, most cases occur in children under four.
- The next highest incidence is recorded for teenagers between 15 and 19 years of age
- Most cases occur without any connection to other cases (sporadic cases), sometimes two or more cases are connected by those affected having close contact.
Meningococcal disease is not highly infectious. The bacteria are passed by close contact, so family members of a case and others who have close contacts with a case may be spreading the same germs.
Close contact in residential accommodation, such as student halls of residence, and schools can also give the opportunity for the spread of infection. As the bacteria cannot survive for long outside the human body, infection cannot be caught from water supplies, swimming pools, or buildings.
Its symptoms include a severe headache, painful joints and fitting. Other symptoms include:
- Sudden onset of a high fever
- Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
- Painful joints and vomiting
Meningitis UK is warning parents of children returning to school to be vigilant as there is often a back to school surge in meningitis cases. Mums and dads are being urged to take every precaution and look out for the symptoms.