Meningitis is a serious and potentially fatal disease. However, if dealt with quickly meningitis can be treated successfully. While not terribly common, it is important to be aware of the disease so as you are able to recognise the signs and symptoms should someone in your family begin to develop them. Here, we answer all of your questions regarding the disease.
There are two different types of meningitis; viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. Viral meningitis is the much more common, milder form of the infection. It can be treated at home in most cases, and is often mistaken for flu. Viral meningitis is most common among children in the summer time. Kids with viral meningitis usually recover well within 5-14 days.
Bacterial meningitis is much more severe than viral meningitis and can be fatal if not dealt with promptly. Bacterial meningitis requires immediate admission to hospital and intravenous antibiotics in order to treat the infection. Blood poisoning, severe brain damage and death can follow if left untreated. It is only possible to tell the difference between the two forms of meningitis through clinical tests. A doctor will carry out a physical examination, as well as blood test and a lumbar puncture. These tests will determine whether the infection is viral or bacterial.
The symptoms of both types of meningitis are often identical. For this reason, if you suspect your child may have meningitis, it is important to seek immediate medical care. It is also important to be aware that not everyone suffering from bacterial meningitis will develop the well known rash so do not wait for this to appear. The symptoms of meningitis include:
The symptoms of bacterial meningitis usually begin suddenly and rapidly get worse. There are however, a number of early warning signs to watch out for:
According to the HSE, the symptoms of bacterial meningitis are different in babies and young children, and include the following:
If dealt with promptly, bacterial meningitis can be treated successfully. Bacterial meningitis is treated through intravenous antibiotics. If the IV antibiotics work well, patients may be in hospital for a week or less. However, severely ill patients may be in hospital for a few weeks or even months. In some cases, those suffering from bacterial meningitis may be transferred to an intensive care unit. Oxygen, IV fluids or steroids may also be given to help reduce swelling and treat the infection. Viral meningitis usually gets better without treatment. However plenty of rest, painkillers and anti sickness medicine may be taken to help with headaches, nausea and vomiting.
Currently, there are vaccinations available and recommended in Ireland to fight against group C meningococcal bacteria. However, there is not yet a vaccination to protect against group B bacteria, of which most cases are caused by. According to the European Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Surveillance Report, Ireland has the highest rate of meningitis B notifications in Europe, with 89 cases in 2011.
For this reason, doctors have highlighted the need for new vaccination strategies. There are a number of vaccines available that will help to prevent many cases of bacterial meningitis. According to the HSE, they include: