Urgent alert issued as disease that can kill in 24 hours found in travellers returning to UK

Symptoms of the disease can at first appear more flu-like
Young woman touching bridge of nose to relieve headache while resting in bed. -Credit:Getty Images

UK travellers returning from overseas trips are being alerted to a potentially lethal bacteria that can cause death within hours. Three individuals have been confirmed positive for invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) upon their return to the UK from Saudi Arabia.

IMD is associated with a rare strain of bacteria, known as meningococcal bacteria, which infiltrates the nervous system and can result in two major fatal diseases. The first is meningitis, which claims the lives of approximately 10% of those infected and leaves many others disabled. Immediate medical attention is required if a positive diagnosis for meningitis is made, as the disease is known to advance rapidly.

Meningococcal bacteria can also induce septicaemia, a severe form of blood poisoning typically caused by bacteria or their toxins. It's crucial to remember that anyone diagnosed with IMD can simultaneously develop both meningitis and septicaemia, reports the Mirror.

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Since April, there have been 12 reported cases of IMD, all linked to travel for the Islamic pilgrimage of Umrah, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This journey is viewed as a spiritual voyage for Muslims, providing them with the opportunity to pray, receive blessings, and seek forgiveness from God in what is deemed the holiest site for Muslims.

Umrah, a minor pilgrimage in comparison to the major Hajj pilgrimage required by all Muslims at least once in their lifetime, can be undertaken at any time. In contrast, Hajj is typically observed in June or July.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has reported that two of the pilgrims who tested positive for IMD were from the UK, with four from France and five from the US. Ten had been in Mecca, while two had been in close contact with an infected individual.

Warnings are now being issued to travellers to ensure they are vaccinated, particularly those planning to visit Hajj and Umrah zones this year. The disease is highly contagious amongst unvaccinated individuals, with the majority of those infected having not received their vaccine.

People are also being advised to watch out for symptoms, which can develop rapidly. Signs of meningitis may include:.

There are five primary meningococcal strains causing diseases in the UK: MenA, MenB, MenC, MenW, and MenY. According to Meningitis Now, MenB accounts for most of the UK's cases.

The charity also stated that around 10% of the population carries meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throats or noses at any given time. While it usually causes no harm, when an infection occurs, the bacteria can overcome the body's immune system.

Babies and young children are among the high-risk groups for meningitis, with teenagers and young adults also at risk. Initial symptoms can mimic those of the flu but typically worsen rapidly.

It's crucial that anyone showing signs of the disease is taken to hospital immediately.