Meningococcal disease symptoms and treatments as people urged to wear face masks

Public health officials have shared crucial information on how to spot signs of the disease
-Credit: (Image: Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko)

People have been warned over the symptoms of a potentially deadly disease after a number of cases were detected in the UK.

Invasive meningococcal disease is an infectious disease known to cause meningitis and septicaemia, with a fatality rate up to 40% when resulting in sepsis. Some 14 cases were recently found in people returning from Saudi Arabia - including some in the UK.

Public health officials have shared crucial information on how to spot the signs, as it's revealed the insidious disease can be easily mistaken for other more common illnesses at first. The disease progresses rapidly as bacteria enters the body, causing an acute severe bacterial infection, the Mirror reports.

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The Foreign Office-supported Travel Health Pro said three of the 14 cases were found in the UK, while the US, France, Norway and the Netherlands also seeing cases. These were detected in people who had been to the Middle East for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca.

The most common symptoms can be mistaken for flu or other illnesses, presenting as a fever, headache and a stiff neck, according to health officials. Fatigue, nausea, vomiting, cold hands and feet, chills, severe muscle aches or stomach pain are all also reported with the illness, as well as sensitivity to light and a concerning altered mental status.

The Ministry of Health has issued advice for pilgrims, including:

  • 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.

Survivors may suffer from neurological and hearing impairment or amputation in up to 20% of cases, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. UK government health advice says that the illness is caught through close contact with others by "respiratory secretions" or direct contact such as kissing.

"Young children and teenagers are at highest risk of meningococcal disease," the government's health advice said. "It is not known why some individuals carry the bacteria without them causing harm while others go on to develop invasive disease."

Meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics, but there are a number of steps people can take to prevent illness when travelling to Mecca. This is after a number of people in the major religious destination have fallen ill or died as a result of major heatwaves.