Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining which
surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. It can be caused by several different germs, mainly bacteria and
viruses. Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial although rarely life threatening.
Bacterial meningitis is quite rare, but it can be very serious and needs urgent treatment
with antibiotics. There are many different strains of bacterial
Meningitis of which the more
common is Meningococcal Group B.
The germs that
cause bacterial Meningitis are very common in the back of the nose and throat. People of
any age can carry these germs without becoming ill. It is only very rarely that they
overcome the body’s defense system and cause Meningitis.
They are spread
between people through very prolonged close contact such as coughing, sneezing and
kissing. Since they cannot live outside the body for long, they cannot be picked up
from water supplies, swimming pools, buildings or factories.
The different types of
In some cases,
the Meningococcal bacteria that can cause Meningitis can also cause
blood poisoning or Septicemia which can develop very quickly. A rash appears under the skin which
starts as a cluster of tiny blood spots and looks like pin-pricks in the skin. If they are
left untreated, they get bigger and become multiple areas of obvious bleeding under the
skin surface like fresh bruises.
The rash can
appear anywhere on the body and must be taken seriously. It will be more
difficult to see the rash if you have dark skin. The spots or bruises
do not disappear when pressed. A person who develops Meningococcal Septicemia may have symptoms of rash,
fever, vomiting, and stomach pain.
How to spot
early stages, the symptoms of Meningitis resemble those of a flu. The
illness progresses over one or two days, but it can develop very
rapidly, sometimes in a matter of hours. Below are the signs and
symptoms for adults. (not all these symptoms may show at once).
stiffness, joint pain
or confusion coma
of bright light
of red-purple spo
ts or bruises
The symptoms of Meningitis are as follows:
- Fever which can be accompanied by
coldness in the hands and feet
- Refusing feeds or vomiting
- High pitched moaning cry or whimpering
- Dislike of being handled and fretful
- Neck retraction with arching of back
- Blank and staring expression
- Child is difficult to wake or lethargic
- Pale blotchy complexion
In children and adults:
- High temperature and fever
- Violent or severe headache
- Neck stiffness
- Drowsiness and lethargy
- Joint pains
What you should do
If you suspect someone you know has
Meningitis or Meningococcal Septicemia, contact the doctor immediately. Describe the
symptoms carefully and ask for advice. If your doctor is not available, go straight to the
nearest casualty department. Prompt action is vital.
Haemophilus Influenza Type B (HIB)
(HIB) disease is a serious bacterial disease and a major public health concern. Each year
(according to WHO reports) an estimated 3 million plus cases of HIB disease and some 700,000
HIB-related deaths occur
worldwide. The killing fields of HIB disease are primarily in developing countries;
HIB’s victims are mainly young children under five years of age. HIB virtually
disappears from countries where all children are immunized.
HIB bacteria is an important cause of
childhood Meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain) and
is a major cause of
bacterial pneumonia in children. Even though "influenza" is part of its name,
HIB does not cause the "flu."
HIB can be more dangerous than most other
childhood diseases especially to children under five years of age.
The most serious HIB
disease occurs in children between six and twelve months of age.
HIB is a bacteria that normally establishes
itself in the nose or upper throat. It is spread through sneezing, coughing, or speaking
closely with an infected person. Children often carry the HIB bacteria without showing any
signs or symptoms, but they still can infect others.
Before HIB vaccine virtually eliminated this
disease in the United States, 1 of every 200 children in the United States was made ill by
the disease. We do not know enough about the impact of HIB on children in the developing
countries and further disease burden studies need to be done. However, the World Health
Organization (WHO) estimates that HIB causes 3 million cases of serious disease, and
400,000 to 700,000 childhood deaths each year.
Several HIB conjugate
vaccines have been licensed. All have shown excellent protective efficacy in early infancy
with virtually no side-effects (except occasional, temporary redness or swelling at the
injection site). To reduce the number of injections, HIB vaccine is sometimes given in
combination with Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis (DTP) vaccine.
HIB is one of the safest of all
HIB vaccines are routinely used in
childhood immunization programs in 34 countries or territories including Canada, the
United States, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in Western Europe. Since the
vaccine was introduced, HIB disease has virtually disappeared from most of these
Depending on the HIB vaccine
selected, children as young as six weeks can be safely immunized against
HIB vaccines have not been used
extensively in the developing countries. When tested in several developing countries,
including Chile, Uruguay, and the Gambia, the vaccine has proven to be as effective as in
the United States. However, further disease burden and vaccine efficacy studies need to be
undertaken especially in Asia, Africa, and the newly independent states of Eastern
The WHO Global Program for Vaccines
and Immunization makes the following recommendation: "In view of the demonstrated
safety and efficacy of the HIB conjugate vaccine, HIB vaccine should be included…in
routine infant immunization programs."
A recent assessment by WHO's
Children's Vaccine Initiative suggests that inclusion of HIB vaccine into childhood
immunization schedules will be cost-effective even in the lowest income strata.
The risk of contracting
Meningitis or Meningococcal Septicemia is very small even if you have been in contact
with someone who has developed the infection.
The bacteria which cause Meningitis and
Septicemia are very common.
Most of us will carry them at some stage in our lives
without developing any illness. Only a tiny proportion of the population will
develop Meningitis or Septicemia if they come into contact with the bacteria.
The bacteria are very weak.
for only a short period of time outside the body, so they cannot live long in the air and
are not carried on household objects such as clothes, furniture or toys. This means
that you must be in very close contact with someone before the bacteria can pass between
you. Even though this happens quite regularly, it is unlikely you will develop
Meningitis or Septicemia because most of us have natural resistance to the bacteria.
Although Meningitis and Meningococcal
Septicemia are not common diseases, but they are very dangerous and can develop rapidly.
vital that everyone knows the signs and symptoms to watch out for.
A vaccine against this disease is
also given to all pilgrims going to Mecca for prevention reasons.
bacterial Meningitis is diagnosed early and treated promptly, most
people will make a complete recovery. It is a rare disease but it can be
very serious and requires urgent treatment with antibiotics.
Meningitis is generally more common but less serious and cannot be
helped by antibiotic treatment.