The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by meninges, these are protective membranes. When these become infected it is called meningitis. It is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection and is most common amongst younger children and young adults. Meningitis can spread through kissing, coughing and sneezing of affected or unaffected people. It can be life-threatening and can lead to permanent damage to the brain or nerves. Thankfully, vaccinations are available that offer some protection against meningitis.
Symptoms of meningitis can occur rapidly and they can include some, but not always all of the following symptoms:
· Nausea and vomiting · Fever · Headaches · Discomfort with bright lights · Neck stiffness · Rash that doesn't go away when glass is rolled over it · Drowsiness · Lack of consciousness · Fits
Meningitis is typically caused by a bacterial or viral illness. The bacterial illness is not as common but tends to be more serious than the viral illness.
There are vaccinations against many of the potential causes of meningitis. The following vaccinations are part of the NHS immunisation schedule, and being up to date with them will offer you increased protection;
· Meningitis B vaccine - is offered at 8 weeks, 16 weeks and 1 year of life.
· 6 in 1 vaccine – is offered at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age
· Hib/MenC vaccine - offered at 1 year of age
· Pneumococcal vaccine - depending on their age they will have either 2 or 3 doses at 8 weeks, 16 weeks and 1 year old
· MMR vaccine - offered at 1 year old and 3 years and 4 months
· Meningitis ACWY vaccine- offered to young adults prior to attending university
If meningitis is suspected you should speak to a healthcare professional urgently. If your child is very unwell, call an ambulance or attend your nearest emergency department. The sooner treatment is given the better.
At the hospital, the doctors will take different tests to confirm the presence of meningitis. Viral infection is usually able to be treated at home and improves after a week or so. Bacterial infection, although rarer, is more severe, and needs to be treated in the hospital. Treatments may include fluid and antibiotics through the vein and oxygen through a mask.
Severe infections with bacterial meningitis can lead to complications in some people. This can be problems with focus and memory, ongoing seizures or fits, difficulties with balance and movement, loss of hearing or vision and in very severe circumstances loss of limbs. On average, 1 in every 10 cases of bacterial meningitis can be deadly which is why it is so important to seek help quickly if you suspect it.
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