Reports of children who appear 'a bit off colour' but within hours are fighting for their lives from meningitis strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere.
With time being of the essence it's crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms, warns charity Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF).
In the UK and Ireland, around 3,600 people are affected by meningitis each year. One in 10 people who contract the disease lose their lives and many more are left with life changing disabilities.
Meningitis and septicaemia are deadly diseases that can progress at an alarming rate. Meningitis is caused by the inflammation of the meninges, the lining around the brain and spinal cords. Septicaemia is the blood poisoning form of the disease where bacteria multiply rapidly producing toxins that attack the lining of the blood vessels. One of the results is that the body produces an inflammatory response which can result in a rash.
How do you get meningitis and septicaemia?
There can be a number of causes of meningitis, but the two most common are viruses and bacteria. Viral meningitis is rarely life-threatening, but can leave patients with lifelong after-effects. Bacterial meningitis is life-threatening. At any one time around ten per cent of the population carry these bacteria perfectly harmlessly in the back of their nose and throat. If treated quickly most people will make a good recovery, but a quarter of survivors suffer life-long after-effects including brain damage, amputations, hearing loss and epilepsy.
Who is at risk?
Young children and adolescents are particularly susceptible. Meningitis and septicaemia kill more UK children under the age of five than any other infectious disease. Babies under 12 months are the most vulnerable because their immune system is not fully developed and they cannot easily fight infection.
In the early stages the diseases can be mistaken for other illnesses. Fever, headache and feeling generally ill may suggest that a child has a virus, such as flu but early diagnosis and treatment gives the best chance for a full recovery.
Being Meningitis Wise and knowing the symptoms that differentiate meningitis from milder illnesses is key to saving lives.
Specific symptoms to meningitis and septicaemia are:
Click Above For The Chart
Limb/joint/muscle pain Cold hands and feet/shivering Rash - this can be a late symptom so don't wait Stiff neck Dislike of bright lights Confused/delirious Seizures
Fever and/or vomiting Severe headache Very sleepy/vacant/difficult to wake Pale or mottled skin Breathing fast/breathless
Symptoms in toddlers and babies:
Refusing to eat/feed Irritable, not wanting to be held/touched Stiff body with jerky movements, or floppy, unable to stand up Tense or bulging soft spot on the head Â–the fontanelle High pitched or moaning cry
Mette Mitchell from London experienced meningitis first hand: Â“In March 2007 when my daughter Miko was just six months old she developed Group B meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. I thought that a bout of viral meningitis when she was three months old was going to be the worst experience of my life, but nothing prepared me for the horror of being in hospital with Miko suffering from the bacterial form of the disease and not knowing whether she would live or die. Only fast treatment saved her life. Every time I hug her now I get reminded that I could have lost her.Â”
How can meningitis be prevented?
Meningitis vaccines give excellent protection but can't prevent all forms of meningitis and septicaemia. Although three types of meningitis and septicaemia are covered by the national childhood immunisation schedule - Hib, pneumococcal and meningococcal Group C, many parents are unaware that their children are not protected against all strains.
There is currently no vaccine for meningococcal Group B which is responsible for the majority of cases in the UK; around five cases a day. Neonatal forms of the disease are also not currently vaccine preventable.
What should you do if you are worried?
Trust your instincts. If you think your child has meningitis or septicaemia get medical help immediately from a GP or the nearest hospital A & E and tell them you are worried!
How can you help?
Meningitis Research Foundation fund vital research into the prevention, detection and treatment of meningitis and septicaemia. To find out more and how you can help us fund future research visit the MRF website at www.meningitis.org or call the Freefone helpline on 080 8800 3344 (UK) or 1800 41 33 44 (Republic of Ireland)