Sunday, 23 October 2011

Meningitis - what you need to know

Okay, rare serious, sensible post coming up.  I tend to keep my blog for mad personal meanderings but sometimes something comes along that needs flagging up without making any kind of joke.  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.

Some time ago I asked you to fill in a short survey on the blog and huge thanks to those that did.  I’m not a huge fan of stats as they can so easily be swayed whichever way you want to take them.  But a couple of the results stood out for me as meaningful.

72 percent of people who responded 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. 

Dr Rob Hicks
A few days back I went up to Birmingham to take part in a blogger forum on meningitis. It was fascinating and terrifying in equal portions.  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. - The bacterial form 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?  The main lesson that came out of the forum was:
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). 
The main point that Dr Rob Hicks put across was simple:
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,’ he said.  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.
Regarding the well-known glass test – many of us didn’t really know how to use it. Do you?  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
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 - devoted to finding a vaccine to protect against all types of meningitis.

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. 


Thinking said...

hmm....thought provoking....

Isobel said...

Thanks for bringing us up to date on this important subject.

As I said when I responded to the survey, my husband - then aged 69-9 months - got it in an afternoon. We'd been outside in God's fresh air, he drove home (ever so carefully - as though he'd been on the toot all afternoon - hadn't touched a drop!) complained of a raging headache at 1830 and was in St. George's Tooting by 2245 the same evening!) That quick, and thank goodness (and St. George's) he's still with us!

It is frightening - and I, too, urge all of you with litle folk to get knowledgable about meningitis.

Midlife Singlemum said...

One of my big fears but it's essential to know the symptoms - thank you.

Anonymous said...

Sad, the way caution can sometimes lead to unecessary fear....

Exmoorjane said...

Yup, as Isobel says...we need to know what to look for, so we can dispel the fear of the unknown...and know how to recognise it and what to do. But, as Bud says, not let the fear overwhelm us...

Thanks again to everyone who completed the survey, and who has commented.

Anonymous said...

A professionally crafted logo format is one of the greatest blessings for a company; whether it is big or small. It gives them an identity of their own and makes them different from others.

Anonymous said...

Cheryl, please expand. I'm curious about the logo/meningitis link....

Clara said...

An informative article. Eleven years ago my lovely Mum, then aged 55, went to bed on a Sunday afternoon with a terrible headache. By Monday she had a raging temperature and despite going to A & E she returned home as she felt too ill to wait in the waiting room. On the Tuesday she was admitted by Ambulance. By the end of the week the doctors finally diagnosed bacterial meningitis but sadly she died in the early hours of Sunday morning, having been unconscious since the Tuesday.
It was horrendous time. I thought I would share this just to reiterate that it can strike at absolutely any age and is frighteningly quick.

elizabethm said...

I had meningitis when I was thirty two. Totally terrifying and I have barely any memory of it. I was one of the lucky ones. A blogger friend lost her sister to it last year. Read and take heed. Thanks for blogging about this Jane.

mountainear said...

Thank you Jane - we lost a student some years ago at the college where I worked and more recently one of our Young Farmers has had 2 years from hell (and now lacks the best part of 2 legs). Meningitis was the culprit.

I'm not sure whether intervention sooner in either of these cases would have made a difference but think that greater awareness can only be a good thing.

Family Affairs said...

V scary and thanks for the info Lx

Exmoorjane said...

Cheryl: umm, yup, what Bud says really... Not sure we'll be clicking on your link right now, hon.. :)

Clara: I'm so very sorry. Thank you so much for posting. I do think a lot of us think it only affects young babies.

Elizabeth: Yes, I remember you talking about it. My BIL had it also as an adult. Is important to be informed, I think.

Mountaineer: how lovely to see you here...though under less than cheery circs. Yes, you can't ever tell whether early intervention would help but it has to give more of a fighting chance. Huge thanks for posting.

FA: Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend.

PS - Just seen on FB that a local friend's grand-daughter is fighting this right now in hospital. :(
Would re-iterate, know the symptoms, know the tests, act FAST if you suspect someone has it. But don't dwell on the fear of it... xxx

Zoë said...

My mate Andy had it when he was 16, it has left him with uncontrollable epilepsy.

Also lost a friend, Bob Watts to it at college - we left college on the Friday and he was fine, next morning he was dead.

Well done for raising this and helping people be more aware.

Milla said...

It still just boils down to the neck and wincing at light / flu symptoms stuff doesn't it. Why's it so bloody fast?? Elizm, God must want you to do something down here, that/s two serious brushes with death you've survived.

D.J. Kirkby said...

Very frightening and very important information. My cousin got meningitis in her late teens. She recovered but her personality has never been the same.