Meningitis is a bacterial infection causing inflammation of the tissues around the brain and spinal cord. It often spreads through the bloodstream to cause septicaemia. Meningitis is a serious infection and can result in death in 10% of cases. Those who survive are often left with some form of disability. Statistics show that there are almost 10 new diagnoses of meningitis PER DAY, which amounts to approximately 3000 new cases per year. It can also be caused by a virus but this type tends to be less severe and most people who contract vital meningitis often make a good recovery.
Most cases in the UK are caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus). Other less common causes include Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Anyone can be affected. However, children under the age of 5 years and teenagers are the most at risk from meningococcal meningitis.
One or more of the following symptoms below may occur. Note that not all symptoms may occur. For example, the classic symptoms of neck stiffness and rash may not occur.
If you suspect meningitis, seek medical help immediately.
Many children who are developing meningitis have non-specific symptoms such as just feeling or looking generally unwell. These symptoms may include having a high temperature (fever), being more tired than usual and feeling sick.
However, there are three symptoms that commonly develop early on:
- Leg pains — They can become severe and prevent a child from standing or walking.
- Cold hands or feet — Even if the child has a high temperature.
- Pale, dusky or blue colour of the skin around the lips.
RASH — This is the symptom that most people are taught to look out for. Although it is a very common symptom, it does NOT always occur.
The rash is quite classically red or purple. Small spots develop at first and may occur in groups anywhere on the body. They often grow to become blotchy and look like little bruises. One or two may develop at first but many may then appear on different parts of the body.
The spots/blotches do not fade when pressed (unlike many other rashes). To check for this do the glass or tumbler test. Place a clear glass firmly on one of the spots or blotches. If the spot/blotch does not fade and you can still see it through the glass, seek medical help immediately.
The rash is a sign of septicaemia. It may not occur with meningitis alone.
OTHER SYMPTOMS WHICH MAY OCCUR IN BABIES:
- Excessive crying — often high-pitched or moaning and different to their usual cry.
- Fast breathing.
- High temperature — but the baby may not look hot and the skin may look pale or blotchy, or turn blue. The hands and feet may feel cold. The baby may shiver.
- Off food — will not take feeds — sometimes, repeatedly being sick (vomiting).
- Irritable — especially when picked up and handled.
- Drowsiness or sleepiness — does not wake easily.
- Jerky movements may occur and the body may appear stiff. Sometimes the opposite occurs and the body appears quite floppy. Fits or seizures (convulsions) sometimes develop.
OTHER SYMPTOMS WHICH MAY OCCUR IN OLDER CHILDREN AND ADULTS:
- High temperature and shivering — however, the hands and feet often feel cold.
- Stiff neck — cannot bend the neck forward.
- Severe headache.
- Fast breathing.
- Aches and pains in muscles or joints — the pains can become quite severe.
- The skin may look pale or blotchy, or turn blue.
- Sensitivity to bright lights — will shut the eyes and turn away from the light.
- Drowsiness or confusion — may appear vacant.
- Vomiting. Sometimes, tummy (abdominal) pain and diarrhoea.
THE COURSE OF SYMPTOMS
The symptoms often develop quickly, over a few hours or so. Symptoms can occur in any order and not all may occur. Sometimes symptoms develop more slowly, over a few days and can be mistaken for a less serious illness at first. For example, high temperature, headaches and vomiting are common with many viral illnesses such as flu. Therefore, even if you think it was flu to start with, if symptoms become worse then it may be meningitis.
Vaccination is the best protection against meningitis. Children are already routinely immunised against certain strains of meningitis; these include haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), group C meningococcus, pneumococcus and mumps.
However, although there is a new vaccine against group B meningitis (BEXSERO), this is not yet part of the NHS vaccination programme, and probably will not be for some time.
The Daily Mail reported (12.02.15) that “Britain has one of the highest rates of Meningitis B in the world…” and “During the last two years there have been 1,130 cases of Meningitis B, of which at least 452 people died or suffered disabilities.”
At Cosmopolitan Medical Clinic, our specialist paediatric nurses provide this vaccine for children aged 2 months and over.
We also work closely with schools to vaccinate groups of children. If you are a teacher of a school and would be interested in learning more about our Group Meningitis Programme, please contact us on 01622 296440.
FOR MORE INFORMATION YOU CAN VISIT THE FOLLOWING LINKS:
BEXSERO (The meningitis vaccination)
Urgent medical attention is required if a person has contracted meningitis. Hospitalisation, supportive medical treatment and intravenous antibiotics are often required.