Meningitis - what you need to know

Meningitis – what you need to know

Meningitis.  I really urge you to read this (I’ll keep it short) and then to find out more. And not only if you have young children – this disease can kill at any age.
72 percent of people who responded to a recent survey didn’t know which subtype of meningococcal disease their child had been vaccinated against (it’s C only).
73 percent did not know which type of meningitis causes the most death and disease in the UK (it’s B).
Hey, guess what?  I didn’t know either.  And I’m supposedly a health journalist.
Meningitis is complicated and I freely admit I didn’t know all of these facts:
  • Meningitis is caused by either a virus, a fungus or a bacteria. Not all types are as dangerous as one another. Bacterial is the most dangerous – and can be deadly. There are many types of bacterial meningitis.
  • Meningitis can develop VERY quickly.  A person can go from apparently healthy to critically ill in just FOUR hours.
  • Approximately ten percent of people who contract bacterial meningitis will die – even if they are correctly diagnosed and receive early and appropriate treatment. Those that don’t may lose limbs, suffer brain damage, blindness, deafness or be left with learning difficulties or epilepsy.
      This is one SERIOUSLY scary disease.
·     Those most at risk are babies and young children (over 50 percent of cases occur in children under five years old) followed by adolescents (those of you whose children have just gone off to college? Make sure they know about this).  Military personnel and travellers to areas where the disease is endemic are also at risk.  But anyone, yes anyone, can contract meningitis. It is contracted by direct close contact with an infected person or via air droplets (you don’t catch it from shaking hands, for example).
So. How do you tell if you or someone else has meningitis?
  • Don’t wait for the rash. We all know (don’t we?) that the key symptom of meningitis is a purple rash?  Well, while it is a symptom, it’s actually a late one, showing that septicaemia (blood poisoning) is rampaging through the body.  The early symptoms of meningitis are often very unspecific and flu-like (high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, photosensitivity – bright lights hurt the eyes).
  • Trust your instincts as a parent. Don’t be scared of ‘wasting the doctor’s time’. There are no such things as neurotic parents; just caring ones,’ says meningitis expert Dr Hicks.  He’s damn right.
  • In babies, look out for pale blotchy skin. Cold hands and feet (while the rest of the body feels feverish) is an unusual, but telling, symptom. Rapid breathing or grunting; an unusual cry or moaning.  Refusing food or vomiting. Generally fretful and/or floppy, listless and unresponsive.
  • The stiff neck can be a useful symptom in anyone over two.  ‘The person simply won’t be able to put their chin on their chest; it will be simply too painful,’ said Dr Hicks. Also look for severe headaches and muscle pain; for a dislike of bright lights, confusion and irritability, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
  • The glass test.   Do you know how to use it?  Basically you need a clear glass.  Press it on the rash and look through the glass.  The spots will not disappear or dissipate in any way.
My purpose with this blog post is not to frighten you. And I wouldn’t want you to dwell on this.  I just think we need to know how to recognise this disease and to know what to do should it happen to someone you know.  Forewarned is forearmed, right?  As the Meningitis Trust says: ‘Knowing the signs and symptoms can save lives.’
If you want to know more, I would urge you to look at the websites of the three charities which attended the forum.
The Meningitis Trust – Provide free services and community based support for people affected by meningitis in the UK. Support group has a 24-hour helpline 0800 028 18 28  They have produced a free downloadable app for Smart phones http://www.meningitisapp.co.uk
Meningitis ResearchFoundation – Campaigns for earlier recognition, better treatment, aftercare and support.  Lobbying for the introduction of vaccination against all strains of meningitis (a MenB vaccine may soon be available) and for greater awareness of the costs of the disease (see their petition on the website for full details).
Meningitis UK – Aim is to find a vaccine against all strains of the disease.
Please note: I was paid an honorarium for attending this forum (however with no obligation to write about it). I have donated it to the three charities above.