Today is World Meningitis Day. I had the pleasure of attending a webinar on Meningococcal Disease and the Burden of Meningitis B in Canada. I learned a lot of new information about this disease but the most important thing I took away that I did not know and I also learned as parents, we need to make sure we understand the symptoms or at least know where to go quickly to get the information we need to save lives and prevent permanent damage.
Meningococcal disease is a sudden, aggressive, rapidly progressing and life-threatening illness that manifests as bacterial meningitis – an infection of the membrane around the brain and spine – and sepsis – a bloodstream infection that can lead to death within 24-48 hours of the first symptom. Survivors may suffer permanent brain damage, learning disabilities, hearing loss, and limb loss.
Meningococcal disease is dynamic and unpredictable as the bacteria causing the illness can mutate and shift over time and vary by country and region.
Bacterial meningitis is one of the most common forms of meningococcal disease and needs to be treated immediately at the onset of symptoms which include fever, nausea, headache, feeling of unwellness, neck pain and vomiting.
The majority of meningitis cases occur in otherwise healthy people particularly infants and adolescents, who are at the greatest risk and also represent the greatest unmet need for protection.
Adolescents, who often socialize in groups, can harbour and transmit the bacteria that cause meningitis to each other, their family members, and their communities, often times while sharing lipstick, cigarettes or drinks. A dormant case in one person could be a live case in someone else.
Meningitis B is responsible for 80% of meningococcal cases in infants under one year of age in Canada, and 62% of the cases in adolescents.
Meningococcal disease caused by meningitis B remains an important public health challenge, since there is currently no effective vaccine available, however Health Canada is currently reviewing for approval and use for Canadians, the first meningitis B vaccine. This vaccine would be the final piece of the meningococcal meningitis vaccination puzzle.
Up to one in five survivors suffers from devastating, life-long disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, or limb loss.
We cannot emphasize enough the truly devastating impact this disease can have on families and the facts are, when it comes to meningitis – KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
Please watch this great World Meningitis Day video
Meningitis Disease – Myths and Facts
1. There is only one type of meningitis.
MYTH – Meningitis can be caused by different germs including viral, bacterial and fungal. A viral infection is less severe and can typically be treated at home. Bacterial meningitis occurs when bacteria enters the blood and migrates to the spinal area. Given the rapid progression and severity of meningitis, medical attention should be sought immediately if someone suspects meningitis.
2. Meningitis has flu-like symptoms.
FACT – Early symptoms of meningitis are similar to flu symptoms, including fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting. Other symptoms can include confusion, light sensitivity and no interest in eating or drinking. If you notice these symptoms, seek medical attention.
3. Meningitis is easy to diagnose.
MYTH – Because early symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses especially the flu, cases of meningitis can be overlooked and misdiagnosed initially. It’s important at the onset of symptoms to seek immediate treatment.
4. Meningitis will go away on its own.
MYTH – Bacterial meningitis requires quick and aggressive treatment and can result in devastating consequences including varying degrees of blindness, deafness, paralysis and intellectual disabilities or death.
5. Canadian children and young adults are most susceptible to meningitis.
FACT – Children under one year of age and adolescents (15-19 years old) are among the age groups with the highest incidence of meningitis. College and university students are also susceptible to contracting meningitis because of their increased likelihood of sharing items such as drinks, utensils and cigarettes.
6. Meningitis can be contracted by casual contact.
MYTH – Meningitis is spread through direct contact with an infected person through the droplet route by means of respiratory secretions when air or liquid secretions are shared.
Take the Survey!
I encourage parents to take the Meningitis Awareness Survey, which will be live until April 29th. This survey will provide insight into Canadians’ current perceptions and awareness of meningitis (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5BJRTDY).