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Preventing Meningitis

 


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Preventing your child from getting Meningitis
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Meningitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is a very serious disease and can kill within hours. Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, and occasionally by a fungus. Viral meningitis can be very unpleasant but it is almost never life threatening and most people quickly make a full recovery.
Bacterial Meningitis
Bacterial meningitis is more serious and can be caused by a range of different bacteria. Early symptoms of meningitis include:
  • high temperature and irritability,
  • developing into headache,
  • neck stiffness,
  • the avoidance of bright lights.
In babies these symptoms can look like many other childhood illnesses making diagnosis more difficult.

Meningitis can be accompanied by septicaemia (or blood poisoning) which can cause a rash that does not blanch with the "glass test" (pressing a glass tumbler gently over the rash). The early symptoms may be easily missed in babies. The disease can develop very rapidly, leading to coma and death.

Before vaccination was introduced, most cases of bacterial meningitis in the UK were caused by group C meningococcal bacteria, giving rise to the name of the disease Meningitis C.
Meningitis C
Meningitis C is frequently accompanied by septicaemia, 10% of children getting Meningitis C die and those who survive may suffer limb amputations, brain damage, seizures and deafness.

The Meningitis C conjugate vaccination programme introduced in 1999 has drastically reduced the number of cases. However, this vaccine does not give protection to other types of meningococcal disease such as groups A, Y or W135 which are rare in the UK and so vaccination against these types is only offered to travellers to high risk areas. Meningitis B remains the most common non-vaccine preventable form of the disease in the UK.
Pneumococcal Meningtis
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The second most common form of bacterial meningitis in the UK is called pneumococcal meningitis which is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. The bacteria are also responsible for other conditions such as blood poisoning (septicaemia), pneumonia, otitis media (ear infections) and sinusitis.

Streptococcus pneumoniae may be carried in the nose, ears or may invade the lungs. The bacteria are spread from person to person by droplets when coughing or sneezing or through direct contact with respiratory secretions.

Pneumococcal disease occurs most frequently in the winter months, particularly affecting very young children and those whose immune system is not working properly. Although less common than Meningitis C it is more likely to kill (20% of those who catch it) or disable (up to 50% of those who survive). Vaccination to prevent the infection before it occurs is essential to protect children properly.

It is not possible to vaccinate against all of the many different types of pneumococcal bacteria but the childhood immunisation schedule includes an effective pneumococcal vaccine against the types responsible for the majority of disease in a child's early years. The risk of pneumococcal disease decreases as children grow older but if a child has a medical problem placing them at increased risk, there is another pneumococcal vaccine which is available for older children and adults.
Hib Meningtis
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Another form of bacterial meningitis, called Hib meningitis, is caused by a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).

Hib bacteria may be carried in the nose and throat of people without their showing signs of the disease and is spread from one person to another through coughing or sneezing. In addition to meningitis, many patients develop widespread infection and blockage of the airways.

An estimated 5% of patients will die, those who survive may experience deafness, seizures and mental impairment. Since the introduction of conjugated Hib vaccines the incidence of the disease has fallen by over 95% in infants under 1 year, the highest risk age group for the disease.
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