The Health Service Executive has urged people to be aware of the symptoms of meningitis.

It said parents who suspect their child may have meningitis should call 999 or bring them immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department that deals with children.

The warning comes following the death of a young woman in Limerick from a confirmed case of bacterial meningitis.

Director of Public Health with HSE Mid West Dr Mai Mannix said that although the disease tends to occur more commonly in babies and children under four, there is a smaller peak in late teenagers.

There are two main types of meningitis - bacterial and viral - but the germs that cause bacterial meningitis can also cause septicaemia, which is a serious illness that can be life-threatening.

Meningitis and septicaemia symptoms

Babies and children with meningitis and septicaemia will not usually have every symptom and might not have a rash.

If your child has any of the following think about meningitis and septicaemia:

  • A high temperature
  • A temperature of 38°C or higher or cold hands and feet and is shivering.
  • Dislikes bright lights
  • Squints or covers their eyes when exposed to light.
  • Headache and neck stiffness
  • Has a very bad headache or a stiff neck
  • Pain or body stiffness
  • Has aches or pains - stomach, joint or muscle pain. Has a stiff body with jerking movements or a floppy lifeless body.
  • Tummy symptoms - is vomiting or refusing to feed.
  • Confused, tired or irritable
  • Is very sleepy, lethargic, not responding to you or difficult to wake. Is irritable when you pick them up or has a high-pitched or moaning cry. Is confused or delirious.

Skin colour

Has pale or bluish skin.

Unusual breathing

Is breathing fast or breathless.

Soft spot

Has a tense or bulging soft spot (the anterior fontanelle) on their head

Seizures

Has a seizure.

Rash

A rash that doesn't fade when you press a glass tumbler against it.

The HSE says that If you're not sure, contact your GP or GP Out of Hours Service immediately.

Bring your child immediately to your nearest hospital emergency department for children if you cannot contact your GP or they cannot see your child urgently.

How to check for a rash - but remember a rash is not the only symptom - do not wait for it to appear before getting medical help.

Check all of your child's body and look for tiny red or brown pin-prick marks that do not fade when a glass is pressed to the skin.

These marks can later change into larger red or purple blotches and into blood blisters.

The rash can be harder to see on darker skin, so check on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.

The glass or tumbler test

Press the bottom or side of a clear drinking glass firmly against the rash.

Check if the rash fades under the pressure of the glass.

If the rash does not fade, your child may have septicaemia caused by the meningitis germ.

Get medical help at once.

Viral meningitis is usually milder than bacterial meningitis. Most people make a full recovery from viral meningitis after five to 14 days.

Bacterial meningitis is more severe. It can be life-threatening and requires medical attention more quickly.

Septicaemia is a blood poisoning caused by bacteria. You can have septicaemia without meningitis.

How bacterial meningitis spreads

Bacterial meningitis is spread by prolonged close contact between people. The germ can be coughed out and breathed in. It can also be transferred in saliva, for example during intimate kissing.

The infection is usually spread by people who are not sick themselves. They carry the germs at the back of their nose or throat.

What to do if your child is in close contact with meningitis

Your local public health doctor will advise you if your child has been in close contact with a person who has meningitis.

They might give a short course of antibiotics to your child.

Meningitis vaccines

Make sure your baby gets all their vaccines on time from your GP. Vaccines are the best protection you can give your baby to prevent meningitis.

A baby who has had all their vaccines might still get meningitis. Vaccines do not prevent every kind of meningitis.