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Signs And Symptoms Of Meningitis

Meningitis is more prevalent in the Autumn-Winter months. Early detection can be vital to successful treatment.
Meningitis means an inflammation of the brain lining. It can be caused by several different organisms, some are bacteria and some are viruses.
 

Bacterial meningitis is quite a rare disease, but it can be very serious and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics. Viral meningitis is generally more common, but less serious and cannot be helped by antibiotic treatment. The symptoms are similar, so hospital tests may be needed to tell the difference between bacterial and viral meningitis.

How serious is meningitis?

If the disease is diagnosed early and treated quickly, most people will recover. On average, it is estimated that one in 10 cases of bacterial meningitis may be fatal, and one in seven may have long-term effects, such as deafness or brain damage.

How can I recognise meningitis?

A patient with bacterial meningitis will become very ill, very quickly. The illness may progress over one or two days, but this can develop very rapidly, sometimes in just a matter of hours.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Refusing to feed, in babies
  • A high-pitched or moaning cry in babies or young children
  • Neck stiffness and joint pain
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • A purple-red rash on the skin (see below)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Drowsiness, difficulty to wake, confusion, or even coma in rare cases

All the signs and symptoms may not be present.

The meningitis rash

There may be a rash of tiny red/purple pin-prick spots or bruises caused by bleeding under the skin. This can occur anywhere on the body and is due to blood poisoning (septicaemia) which sometimes accompanies bacterial meningitis, particularly the Meningococcal strain.

The rash is recognisable by the fact that if you press a glass firmly against the spots they will remain visible through the glass.

What should I do?

If you suspect meningitis, call your GP immediately. Explain why you are concerned, describe the symptoms carefully, and ask for advice. If you can’t get to speak to your GP, go straight to the nearest casualty department. If it is bacterial meningitis, early treatment with antibiotics is vital.

How is bacterial meningitis spread?

The organisms that cause bacterial meningitis are very common and live naturally in the back of the nose and throat, or the upper respiratory tract. The incubation period is between two and 10 days. People of any age can carry the germs for days, weeks, or months without becoming ill. Only rarely do the bacteria overcome the body’s defences and cause meningitis.

The bacteria spread between people by coughing, sneezing and kissing. Only very close contacts of the patient are at an increased risk of contracting the disease and may be offered antibiotics which reduce, but cannot eliminate, the risk of also becoming ill.

Is there a vaccine?

Meningococcal B disease is prevented by vaccination.

All children born on or after 1 October 2016 will now be given MenB vaccine at 2 and 4  months of age with a booster  dose of MenB vaccine given at 12 months.

There is a vaccine against the A and C strains of meningococcal meningitis. These forms are less common than the B strain.

The Meningitis Research Foundation has a 24-hour helpline that you can call if you have any worries or concerns: LoCall 1890 413344.

About the Author

eumom team 

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