From the start of the initial symptoms, it can lead to death in as little as 24 hours. Another common complication that occurs in tandem with meningitis is bacteraemia or blood poisoning, which happens when the bacteria enters the bloodstream. Meningitis is a serious global threat that accounts for an estimated 170,000 deaths worldwide each year.
Key facts on meningitis:
- Most people will recover from meningitis and bacteraemia.
- Up to 10% of cases result in death, typically within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.
- 15% of those who survive meningitis will be left with severe after-effects including:
- Memory loss, difficulty retaining information, and/or lack of concentration
- Clumsiness and/or co-ordination problems
- Residual headaches
- Hearing related problems, including deafness, dizziness, loss of balance
- Learning difficulties (ranges from temporary deficiencies to long-term impairments)
- Epilepsy and/or seizures (fits)
- Weakness, paralysis or spasms of certain parts of the body
- Speech problems
- Loss of sight and/or changes in sight
While meningitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, it is the bacterium Neisseria meningitides that is one of the more common causes of meningitis. While there are several strains of the bacterium, six have been identified as the cause of epidemics, namely the A, B, C, W135, X and Y strains. Viral infections can cause meningitis too, but the disease progression is a lot slower.
The meningitis-causing bacterium is transmitted from person-to-person by a carrier who passes it around through:
- Respiratory or throat secretions, e.g. coughing, sneezing, etc.
- Close proximity and prolonged contact, e.g. kissing, living in close quarters (such as a dormitory), sharing eating or drinking utensils, etc. The average incubation period is four days, but can range between two and 10 days.
The average incubation period is four days, but can range between two and 10 days.
Preventing meningococcal meningitis
Meningococcal meningitis is associated with death and major long term complications. The “old” meningococcal vaccine is polysaccharide based and is only effective in children above 2 years old, had poor immune memory and does not contribute to herd immunity. The newer meningococcal conjugate vaccines (MCV) protect children from 6 weeks onwards, induce immune memory, and confer protection to the community. It should be seriously considered by all parents to protect their children from this very debilitating disease.
After all, the consequences of meningitis are farreaching and can affect the lives of children and their families including causing severe deafness and intellectual disability. This illustrates the significance and necessity for immunisation in order to prevent this disease.
An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.