Spot the signs of meningitis

It is vital to know symptoms, writes Helen O’Callaghan

MANY parents don’t know the range of symptoms associated with meningitis and well over half can’t identify any vaccine-preventable types of the disease.

The findings are from a survey conducted by GSK as part of its ‘Know Meningitis’ campaign, which aims to raise meningitis-awareness and offer advice on how to spot signs.

Meningitis involves inflammation of the lining around brain and spinal cord. It can be very serious if not treated fast, with potential to cause life-threatening septicaemia, permanent damage to brain/nerves, limb loss and sometimes death. In early stages, it can be difficult to distinguish meningitis and septicaemia from milder diseases — they often resemble common viruses.

The majority of parents don’t realise vomiting (39%), convulsions/seizures (23%) and cold hands/feet (21%) are symptoms. Just over one-third associates confusion/irritability with meningitis. Awareness of other symptoms is higher: 84% of parents know about rash, 73% about stiff neck and 66% about dislike of bright light or headache.

Meningitis strikes fear into parents because of its devastating nature, says Dr Philip Cruz, paediatrician and vaccines medical director for GSK UK and Ireland. “There’s a window during which it’s vital to bring the patient for immediate medical attention, yet despite being brought for treatment, 5-10% of cases are fatal. And 10% of child survivors suffer major consequences.”

While parents are well informed about the rash, Dr Cruz says this can happen at late stage. “Let’s not wait for this to happen. Trust your instincts,” he urges, citing signs that can occur in some patients: slight fever, sore throat, general aches/pains, irritability and appetite loss.

Some 37% of surveyed parents don’t know the major types of meningococcal meningitis (A, B, C, W, X, Y). Parents are more likely to consider babies/under-fives as being most at risk — only 25% believe 15-19-year-olds are at high risk, though meningitis peaks at this stage too.

The findings show parental confusion about which vaccines their children have received through the national immunisation programme (B and C are on the schedule – MenB and MenC account for majority of disease in Ireland). Dr Cruz urges parents to check their children’s records to see what meningitis types they’ve been vaccinated against — vaccines are also available for types A, W and Y.

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