Foreign Office issues warning as 'potentially deadly' disease cases found in UK travellers

Meningococcal disease in travellers can be lethal with a high death rate of one in 10
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

Health bosses have issused a warning after multiple cases of a potentially lethal disease have been detected in Brits returning home. The Foreign Office-backed Travel Health Pro website has revealed that 14 instances of the deadly meningococcal disease have been identified worldwide in individuals returning from Saudi Arabia - including some in the UK.

The site disclosed 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 with four, the UK with three, and Norway and the Netherlands each with one case. These were found in travellers or contacts of travellers who returned from the Umrah pilgrimage.

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a significant cause of meningitis and septicaemia. The illness often progresses rapidly, with around one in ten succumbing to it. The bacteria invade the body, causing an acute severe bacterial infection, reports the Mirror.

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Meningitis often presents with a trio of symptoms: fever, headache and neck stiffness. It's frequently accompanied by other signs such as altered mental status, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light.

Meningococcal sepsis, characterised by fever and a petechial or purpuric rash, often comes with septic shock, disseminated intravascular coagulation and multiple organ failure. This condition has a fatality rate of up to 40%.

Survivors may experience neurological and hearing impairment or amputation in up to 20% of cases, as per the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Reports have surfaced of over 900 deaths at the Hajj due to intense heatwaves.

The Ministry of Health has provided guidance for pilgrims, which includes:

  • wearing facemasks in crowded areas

  • frequent hand washing with soap and water or disinfectant, particularly after coughing, sneezing, using the toilet, before handling food, and after touching animals

  • using disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and disposing of them properly

  • avoiding contact with sick individuals and not sharing personal items

  • steering clear of camels in farms, markets, or barns

  • refraining from consuming unpasteurised milk or raw meat or animal products that haven't been thoroughly cooked, as well as taking measures to prevent insect bites.

Saudi Arabian authorities have prohibited travellers arriving for Hajj from bringing food unless it's appropriately canned or sealed. Those arriving in areas near Hajj locations for pilgrimage, seasonal work or other reasons are advised to:

  • wash hands before and after eating and after using the toilet

  • clean and wash fresh vegetables and fruit

  • thoroughly cook food and store it at a safe temperature