Know the symptoms of meningitis

Know the symptoms of meningitis

Question: Should I be concerned about my child developing meningitis?

Answer: While relatively uncommon, it can, in some cases, be life-threatening — so knowing the symptoms is crucial.

Meningitis is every parent’s worst nightmare - a condition which can strike quickly and, in some instances, have devastating consequences.

Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain, and there are two main types: viral and bacterial. Viral is rarely life-threatening (although hospitalisation may be necessary in severe cases) and 5,000 cases are reported annually.

Bacterial, however, can be life-threatening. In fact, of the 2,500 cases reported each year, 10 per cent will result in death and an estimated 15 per cent of those who survive will be left with life-changing after-effects, such as hearing loss and even brain damage. The most ‘at risk’ groups are the under ones — 50 per cent of all meningitis cases occur in babies and the under fives — followed by young adults.

Know the symptoms

Meningitis remains relatively uncommon and some GPs may never see a case of bacterial meningitis in their whole career. That said, effective treatment relies on speedy diagnosis, so prompt recognition of symptoms is vital.

“In early symptom presentation, it can be hard to distinguish between a flu-type virus, or viral or even bacterial meningitis,” says Dr Myron Christodoulides, Reader in Molecular Bacteriology/Microbiology at the University of Southampton and Chair of Meningitis UK’s Scientific and Medical Panel. “If a parent sees a rash that develops quickly, do the tumbler test. Get a glass and put it over the rash, bottom down. If the spots don’t disappear when you press firmly, you need to get to A&E.” Don’t wait for a rash to appear, however, if you are concerned. Other symptoms of meningitis may include fever, a stiff neck, a dislike of bright lights, cold hands and feet, vomiting, drowsiness, severe muscle pain and/or headache, convulsions or seizures and unresponsiveness. Babies and toddlers may dislike being handled.

Steps forward

Treatment for viral meningitis can include anti-virals, painkillers, fluid replacement and rest. Vaccines for bacterial meningitis caused by HIB, pneumococcus and meningococcal Group C (MenC) have been very successful — and now a highly anticipated vaccine (Bexsero) to protect against meningococcal group B (MenB) disease has been granted a licence by the European Commission, taking it one step closer to potentially being made available in the UK. “However,” says Myron, “this does not mean we should stop researching and developing better vaccines. And don’t think your vaccinated child will be completely protected against meningitis, because there is still no vaccine to protect against all types.”