Over recent days, we have all been heartened by the courage of 2 year old Faye Burdett’s parents as well as 7 year old Mason Timmins’ parents in publishing emotional photographs, of their children as they are dying from Meningitis. We know that this has hit home as at the time of writing this, some 766,510 people have signed a petition to encourage the Government to roll out the Meningitis B vaccine to all children as opposed to just children aged between 2 and 5 months of age.
Every year there are around 2,500 cases of bacterial meningitis and it is possible that double that figure of viral meningitis occur in the UK. The 2 largest Meningitis charities in the UK have done a lot on the awareness of the signs and symptoms over recent years. These charities are MeningitisNow and the Meningitis Research Foundation. I would highly recommend that you visit them for further information if you are at all worried about someone. There is a link to their websites on out Useful Links page.
What is Meningitis
Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, helping to protect them from injury and infection. These membranes are called meninges.
There are 2 main types of meningitis: viral and bacterial. Viral meningitis can be very nasty but is rarely life threatening. Bacterial meningitis is life threatening.
Meningococcal Disease is life threatening and is a term that is often used to describe two major illnesses, Meningitis and Septicaemia. There are five main groups of meningococcal bacteria: A, B, C, W and Y, the most common group in the UK is group B. It has taken 20 years to find a vaccine for this strain, and the UK is the first country to introduce the vaccine routinely.
However the Men B vaccine has become controversial due to the age range that is being offered the vaccine routinely at this current time.
Meningitis can affect anyone, of any age at any time although it is true to say that the illness has target groups, depending on the type of meningitis. For example, pneumococcal meningitis targets children under the age of 18 months, whereas Meningococcal disease has recently been targeting children in their early teens.
Signs and Symptoms
Meningitis normally affects the child by showing flu like symptoms, so what are you looking out for?
There are certain Red flag signs that you should be aware of, these are:
- Cold hands and feet
- Pain in the limbs or joints
- Abnormal skin colour (pallor or mottling of the skin).
Should you see any of these signs then you really should be getting that child checked out medically as quickly as you can.
Other signs of meningitis are:
- Fever (a very high temperature or in some cases very low temperature)
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck (this can be rare)
- Dislike of bright lights (can be rare).
- Blotchy purple rash (anywhere on the body) (see below for further information on the rash).
There are other signs that are most associated with babies, these are:
- The fontanelle (soft spot) may bulge or become tense
- May refuse to feed
- Be irritable when picked up
- High pitched moaning cry
- May have a seizure
- Be floppy or lifeless
- Be too sleepy to wake up.
The Blotchy purple rash is caused when the bacteria has got into the blood stream and has caused meningococcal septicemia. The rash may start off like pinprick marks, and will not fade when pressed. Be aware the rash MAY NOT appear and even if it does appear, may disappear, so keep checking.
The most up-to-date advice on meningitis where a rash is concerned is do not wait for a rash.
Even though the 2 main charities have done a lot of hard work in awareness, I was surprised to learn earlier this week, that clearly the message isn’t getting home. I learnt this while catching up on an interview that Matt Dawson had taken part in on ITV’s This Morning. Matt Dawson is one of England’s Rugby World Cup winning side of 2003. But more relevant to this blog is the fact at the same time as Faye Burdett was taken into hospital with suspected Meningitis, Matt’s own 2 year old son was on his way to hospital, again with suspected meningitis, although a different strain of the illness. In the interview Matt says that he was ‘a little ignorant to it…not realising how serious Meningitis could be’.
During his interview, Matt went on to describe the events of the day including the hospital events and his feeling of helplessness. Matt is strongly supporting the petition to widen the age range of children who are routinely receiving the Men B vaccine.
At the end of his interview, Matt states very clearly that although the petition for the vaccine is important for the short or medium term, the important thing is that parents are fully aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis.
Chillingly, he went on to say that in his ‘ignorance’ he and his wife came close to saying its ok, their son will be ok and putting him to bed to sleep off the illness, had they done that, in Matt’s words, ‘he wouldn’t be with us today!’
The moral of Matt’s interview is that you should follow your instincts and act if you are in doubt by contacting your GP or your local A&E department.
The most important thing that we can advise is for everyone to get up to date with the signs and symptoms.
The quicker you act the better chance a casualty has of making a good recovery.
We would urge all parents and childcarers who are aware that they have a child in their care who is ill and getting worse fast to get medical advice as soon as possible. We are aware that meningitis is difficult for doctors to diagnose at times as the signs and symptoms are so similar to other illnesses, if you are in any doubt then please ask for a second opinion.
Where to go for help
There are lots of ways to get more information on meningitis:
- Contact Steve and book on a Paediatric First Aid for more advice on meningitis and other childhood illnesses.
- Visit your app stores where you can download Signs and Symptoms Awareness apps.
- Why not visit their websites, we have provided a link to their websites on our Useful Links page.
- Believe in the e-petition to get the Men B Vaccine for all children? Visit the petition page: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/108072