Meningitis, the word every parent fears, I know I certainly do. Here in the UK there are on average over 3,400 cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia every year and they kill more children under five than any other infectious disease.
Whilst vaccines are now available against some forms of the disease, there aren’t vaccines against all types and it is a myth that children are therefore protected against all forms of meninigitis. Dr Nelly Ninis, Consultant Paediatrician at St Mary’s Hospital London and supporter of the Meningitis: Keep Watching campaign says: “Children are only protected against some types of meningitis so parents must be aware of the signs and seek urgent medical help as this disease can maim or kill within hours.”
Meningitis: Keep Watching is a campaign spearheaded by Meningitis Research Foundation and Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK who have now merged and are now known as Meningitis Now (as of Dec 2013) with support from Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited, encouraging parents to remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of the disease. The campaign came about after research found that more than two-thirds of parents in the UK are unaware that current vaccinations do not protect their children from all forms of the disease. This is a misconception that could be putting lives at risk.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord and septicaemia is the blood poisoning form of the disease. Meningitis can be viral or bacterial. Viral meningitis isn’t life threatening and people generally make a full recovery. However bacterial meningitis is more serious.
Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial form of meningitis that is most common here in the UK and affects the brain membrane. It can cause severe brain damage and if untreated is fatal in 50% of cases.
The most common symptoms are a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. Other meningitis symptoms in toddlers and babies may include refusing to eat / feed, irritability (not wanting to be held or touched), stiff body with jerky movements or floppiness and unable to stand up. Babies may also have a bulging fontanelle and a high pitched cry or moan.
Many people will probably know of the “tumbler test”. This is a simple test where you roll a glass tumbler over any rash that has developed on the skin. If the rash doesn’t fade when the tumbler is rolled across the skin this is also a sign of meningitis and action should be taken quickly. However don’t just wait for a rash, the other symptoms are just as important and with meningitis time is of the essence. Rashes should also be checked with the tumbler test frequently as the spots may initially fade.
Meningitis / Septicaemia bacteria is transmitted from person-to-person through close and prolonged contact with someone carrying the infection – such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone. Living in close proximity with an infected person also facilitates the spread of the disease. The average incubation period is four days, but can range between two and 10 days.
Most people who get meningitis and septicaemia survive without any long-term effects, but sometimes they can cause a range of disabilities and problems that can be life changing.
Sarah Lockey’s daughter Tilly contracted meningococcal septicaemia when she was only 15 months old. The disease took hold quickly and through her mother’s prompt actions, Tilly survived but very sadly had to have a double amputation as a result. The below video shows Sarah and Tilly talking about their emotional and life changing experience.
As Sarah states meningitis is “every parents worst nightmare” and that is why I want to support the Meningitis: Keep Watching campaign and help spread the word for parents to remain vigilant. It’s too devastating an illness to ignore.
How you too can help:
- Go to the ‘Meningitis: Keep Watching’ Facebook page and like and share the page and the case studies
- Blog about the campaign using case studies and posts from the Facebook wall or YouTube channel
- Share and download the Meningitis Trust’s mobile app which gives access to signs and symptoms of meningitis while you’re on the move
- Help share the campaign as widely as possible using the hashtag #meningitiskeepwatching
- Request posters and information for distribution at your local schools, playgroups, nursery’s etc.
Meningitis Research Foundation, Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK have a number of resources available for parents to download, including handy symptom checkers. These can be found here: