Everything you need to know about meningitis as reported cases rise by 19pc in a year
- Credit: Archant
It most commonly occurs in young children, but everyone is at risk of contracting meningitis and the consequences can be fatal.
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and can be life threatening if not treated quickly.
The most common symptoms, all of which can develop extremely suddenly, include a high temperature of 38C or above, vomiting, headaches, a stiff neck, a dislike of bright lights and seizures or fits.
In many cases, a blotchy rash can develop which won’t fade when a glass is rolled over it, although it is important to note that this doesn’t occur in all cases.
Fortunately, the disease is not a common occurrence in the UK, although recent data suggests it is on the increase across the country.
Between April and June 2018, Public Health England confirmed 175 cases of the disease – a 19pc increase on the same period last year when there were 146 confirmed cases.
Despite the perception that meningitis is only a risk to toddlers and babies, the most at-risk group during that three-month period were the over 65s, who were the patients in 25.7pc of cases.
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Babies less than a year old made up the second most at-risk group, accounting for 20.6pc of cases, while one to four-year-olds at 13.1pc were the third most at-risk.
Jas Bhogal, 35, from Barking, went through every parent’s worst nightmare when her four-year-old son Hartej was sent home ill from his school in Chadwell Heath last November.
He had a high temperature, cold hands and vomiting, so Jas rushed him to King George Hospital’s A&E in Goodmayes where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and sent home.
Fortunately, Jas listened to her instincts when Jas’ health continued to deteriorate, and after calling 999 was able to get the help she needed at a specialist care unit in Paddington.
Tragically, not all meningitis cases end positively.
In June this year, a coroner ruled an 18-year-old girl from Redbridge could be alive today had she been given the life-saving vaccination she was entitled to.
Lauren Sandell died of meningitis W at her parents’ home in Tudor Close, Woodford Green, in October 2016 after becoming ill in her first weeks at Bournemouth University.
And at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court, senior coroner Nadia Persaud said GPs had not done enough to advise the young woman that she needed the MenACWY vaccine – even though youngsters her age about to start university were at high risk of an illness health officials warned could kill in hours.
Another common problem, particularly in cases of meningitis in children and babies, is that the disease’s inital symptoms are so similar to other more common ailments, meaning doctors are frequently unable to diagnose the problem as soon as possible.
A 2006 study published in The Lancet found 49pc of children who suffered from the most common bacterial form of meningitis were sent home after their first visit to a GP, while research published in the British Medical Journal last year found 30pc of child patients had not received suitable pre-hospital care, which had caused delays which had increased the level of danger.
Last month, in an effort to combat this, the Meningitis Research Foundation published a report calling on more to be done to make “safety netting” – instructing parents on the most serious things to watch out for after a GP visit – a requirement.
Vinny Smith, chief executive, said: “There’s a real risk that doctors can easily miss meningitis and sepsis in the early stages. Offering patients or parents of children safety netting information could be life-saving if a child with a serious illness is sent home.
“Parents often have a gut instinct and know when their child is seriously ill.
“When a child is ill and getting rapidly worse, parents should not be afraid to seek urgent medical help - even if they’ve already been seen by a doctor that same day.”
For more informatiom about the Meningitis Research Foundation visit meningitis.org.