It’s every parents nightmare. What seems to be an common stomach ache is actually the deadly meningitis. News about a three-year old boy from Leeds passing away just two weeks after starting school, from a rare stomach bug that developed into meningitis broke our hearts.
Hearing that your child or a loved one has meningitis is probably one of the last thing anyone wants to hear as this deadly disease has the ability to kill in less than 24 hours, which means a healthy individual can go from being in the pink of health to deathly ill in a flash.
It is with that in mind that we’ve put together this story giving the lowdown on meningitis. With the help of Dr Lulu Bravo (who was speaking at a recent event in Singapore organised by Sanofi for World Meningitis Day), here’s a comprehensive look at what it is, what to look out for and how to prevent the silent killer.
Meningitis in kids: What is it?
In general, any medical term ending with the suffix “-itis” means part of the system is swollen or inflamed, and there is an infection to be treated. Infections are caused by microbes, and it affects our body negatively when our immune systems try to protect us from harmful foreign microorganisms.
The bacteria that causes meningitis normally enters the system through the gastrointestinal (GI) or respiratory tract, and is an infection of the meninges the protective layer covering the brain. In some cases, it can enter the body through the middle or inner year as well. The protective layer will be covered in purulent materials, otherwise known as pus.
When studies on those infected were done, it was seen that in Asia, children aged five and below were more susceptible to being infected as compared to adults. One in 10 people are actually asymptomatic carriers of the bacteria, but very little is known about what triggers it to act.
What to watch out for
The symptoms for meningitis, though commonly mistaken for other less serious illnesses, should never be taken for granted. In babies, parents should look out for blank stares and bulging fontanelles. In children and adults (yes, adults can be affected as well), symptoms include unusually cold hands and feet, limb, joint, and muscle pain, and a purplish rash that does not disappear.
If you have rashes and suspect you may have meningitis, one test you can do is the glass test (the one used to test for dengue). All you have to do is press the base of a clear glass cup against your skin. If the rashes are visible through the glass, you should seek help immediately.
More information on the symptoms can be found here.
Prevention is better than cure
There are now vaccines for the top three causes of meningitis, and a dip in the number of cases has been observed. With a fatality rate of 30% (only with early diagnosis), to 80% and an average fatality rate of 50% to 60%, it is very important to get vaccinated against this disease. The current quadrivalent conjugate vaccine has a better track record than the previous polysaccharide vaccines, with a higher and more sustainable immune response and it has been found to be particularly effective in protecting children under two years of age, who do not respond to conventional polysaccharide vaccines.
World Meningitis Day is on the 24th of April every year. Find out more here.