UK issues urgent health warning after potentially lethal meningococcal disease detected

UK issues urgent health warning after potentially lethal meningococcal disease detected

The Foreign Office has issued an urgent health warning after three British travellers were diagnosed with meningococcal disease on their return to the UK.

The warning said 14 cases of the invasive infection have been reported among travellers to Saudi Arabia. Three of the cases have been found in the UK, five in the US, four in France and one each case in Norway and the Netherlands.

Those diagnosed with the infection had returned from the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, according to Travel Health Pro, a website supported by the Foreign Office.

The disease, caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, can trigger meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and the spinal cord.

Meningococcal disease progresses rapidly and can be deadly, with a fatality rate of up to 15 per cent. It is most common in children less than a year old, teenagers, young adults aged 16 to 23, and people 65 and older.

The most common symptoms are fever, headache and stiff neck, although patients also often experience nausea, vomiting, confusion and photophobia, which causes eyes to become more sensitive to light.

The symptoms can be mistaken for a flu-like illness at first, but they quickly become more severe.

The health ministry has offered guidelines to the public to prevent the disease. Preventative measures include wearing masks, washing hands and ensuring the food is fully cooked.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said the probability of European Hajj pilgrims being infected with communicable diseases was “considered to be low” due to Saudi Arabia’s vaccination requirements and preparedness plans “that address the management of health hazards”.

It, however, noted that the risk of communicable disease outbreaks was highest for respiratory, waterborne, food-borne and vector-borne diseases as with other mass gathering events.