Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues that line the brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis is an illness that is often seen in the news and for this reason it can fill parents with dread and worry.
What everyone should be aware of is that Meningitis is curable, and sufferers can fully recover – as long as it's caught in time. And that is the ultimate key to making sure you are safe.
The fact is that it's a disease that can be extremely serious and can develop quickly and the symptoms can often resemble far less serious illnesses making them difficult to spot, so you need to know what you are looking for.
However what must also be remembered is that it is very rare and only about three to five in every 100,000 people catch the disease every year
Types of Meningitis
In the UK there are two main types of meningitis. The first and most common is viral meningitis. This is usually not a very serious disease and in fact in some cases the symptoms are so mild that the patient might not even realise they have it. The second type of meningitis found is bacterial meningitis. This is a far more serious disease, but also far less common.
The bacteria form of meningitis that people most often hear about in the news in meningococcal meningitis. The bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis are very common and one in ten of us have them in our noses and throats without ever knowing about it because for most of us it's harmless.
How it spreads
Meningitis can be spread through contact such as coughing, sneezing and kissing and in a few people the bacteria can overcome the immune system and pass into the blood stream, resulting in meningococcal meningitis.
The bacteria cannot live outside the body for more than moments so the disease isn't spread by objects such as clothes, toys, swimming pool water etc.
The risk of getting meningitis is very low and even if you come into contact with someone who has it, it is unlikely that you will become ill as most people have a natural resistance to it.
Anyone can get meningitis, but children under five, young people aged 14-25 and adults over 55 are considered to be most at risk.
Bacterial meningitis while very rare is also very serious and can develop rapidly. If at any point meningitis is suspected, urgent medical advice should be sought immediately.
Symptoms to look out for in adults and older children are:
- Rash anywhere on the body of red or purple spots or bruises (or darker than normal, in dark skins) that does not fade when you press a glass tumbler against it
- Stiff Neck
- Joint or muscle pain
- Dislike of bright lights
- Very Sleepy/ Vacant/ Difficult to wake
- Confused/ delirious
- Seizures (fits)
- A constant headache
- Rapid breathing
Symptoms to look out for in infants and babies are:
- Tense or bulging soft spot on their head
- High temperature
- Blotchy skin, getting paler or turning blue
- Refusing to feed
- Irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry
- A stiff body with jerky movements, or else floppy and lifeless.
It is important to remember that not everyone will get all of the symptoms listed above and in particular some people will not get the trademark rash. Therefore if you suspect meningitis, don't wait for a rash to appear but seek medical advice immediately. The rash is mostly seen with septicaemia (blood poisoning caused by the same germs that cause meningitis), but it might not appear until someone is already very ill, and in some cases may not appear at all.
Vaccines are now available against certain types of bacterial meningitis. The MenC vaccine protects against Group C meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia since it became routinely offered to babies in the UK andIreland it has reduced cases of Group C disease by over 90%.
Bacterial Meningitis, although quite rare, is serious and it is good to be aware of the possible symptoms. It can sometimes be confused in the early stages with a bad dose of flu or a heavy hangover, so if suspected take a few precautions and check the symtoms. Tell someone if you are felling particularly unwell, dont leave a person on their own if they look unwell and if in doubt, seek medical advice.
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