Alert after UK travellers bring back disease which can kill one in 10

Meningococcal disease in travellers can be lethal with  death rates of one in 10 when it takes hold
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

A new alert has been issued after more cases of a potentially lethal disease were detected in people returning to the UK. The Foreign Office-backed Travel Health Pro website said that 14 cases of the lethal meningococcal disease have been detected in people returning from Saudi Arabia - including some in the UK.

The website said that as of 21 June 2024, a total of 14 cases of invasive meningococcal disease have been reported in the United States with five cases, France, four, the United Kingdom, three, Norway (1), and the Netherlands (1) in travellers or contacts of travellers returning from Umrah pilgrimage.

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a major cause of meningitis and septicaemia. The disease often has a rapid progression, around one in ten dying. The bacteria invade the body and cause meningococcal infection, which is an acute severe bacterial infection.

Meningitis frequently presents with the triad of fever, headache and neck stiffness, and is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as altered mental status, nausea, vomiting and photophobia. Meningococcal sepsis (meningococcemia) is characterised by fever and a petechial or purpuric rash, often accompanied by septic shock, disseminated intravascular coagulation and multiple organ failure.

Meningococcemia has a case-fatality ratio of up to 40%. Sequelae such as neurological and hearing impairment or amputation occur in up to 20% of survivors, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

It has been reported that the Hajj was hit by more than 900 deaths caused by serious heatwaves. For people going to the Hajj, the Ministry of Health also recommended that pilgims:

• wear facemasks when in crowded places

• wash hands frequently, with soap and water or a disinfectant, especially after coughing, sneezing, using toilets, before handling and consuming food, and after touching animals

• use disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose of used tissues in wastebaskets

• avoid contact with those who appear ill and avoid sharing personal belongings

• avoid contact with camels in farms, markets, or barns

• avoid drinking unpasteurised milk or eating raw meat or animal products that have not been thoroughly cooked, as well as applying measures to avoid insect bites during the day and night.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia do not permit travellers arriving into the country for Hajj to bring food, unless it was in properly canned or sealed containers. Travellers arriving in areas in the vicinity of Hajj locations for pilgrimage, seasonal work or other purposes were recommended to observe the following:

• wash hands before and after eating and after going to the toilet

• clean and wash fresh vegetables and fruit

• cook food thoroughly and store at safe temperature