02 August 2016, The Tablet

Meningitis warning for World Youth Day pilgrims after Italian teenager dies on journey home

Doctors urge anyone with symptoms to seek immediate help after sudden death of 19-year-old

Pilgrims returning home from World Youth Day are being warned to keep an eye out for the symptoms of meningitis after an Italian teenager died after being hospitalised in Austria on the way home from Krakow.

Named only as Susanna R, the 19-year-old died after being admitted to hospital in Vienna after contracting the dangerous virus in Krakow. The Italian bishops' conference and the hospital that treated the victim, have warned that any pilgrims who visited or attended events at its Casa Italia centre in Krakow, or came into contact with anyone from the centre should seek urgent medical advice.

All the members of the young woman's group were given the antibiotic ciprofloxacin as a precaution, according to the Italian bishops' conference. The Casa Italia centre was set up at Krakow's Church of St Bernard of Siena and the adjoining convent. Some Italian pilgrims stayed there during World Youth Day and hundreds more joined them each day for catechesis and Mass in Italian. According to World Youth Day figures 486 Italian groups and a total of 76,883 Italian pilgrims made the journey to Poland last week.

Meningitis can spread notoriously quickly among teenagers and young adults and can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal if left untreated. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, stiffness in the neck and back, nausea, and general fatigue. The illness is transmitted through air droplets, like the flu; however, the flu is much more contagious than meningitis.  Meningitis is not spread by casual contact or by breathing the same air as an infected person.  It requires closer contact such as close spaces with poor air flow.  People with a lower immune systems should always be more cautious.

Italy has been suffering pockets of meningitis outbreaks over the last year. In February, the US issued a warning to its citizens to take extra care when travelling in the Tuscany region after reports of an outbreak of meningitis killed nine people. And in a report published in March, Italy was criticised by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for misdiagnosing more than 40 per cent of meningitis cases that resulted in death.

The death brings into focus the issue as to whether pilgrims to World Youth Day should be vaccinated for contagious communicable diseases before being allowed to mingle in vast crowds of people. Muslim pilgrims who travel to Mecca every year for Hajj must be inoculated for a number of diseases, including meningitis, before being allowed into Saudi Arabia.



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