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Expat Investor : May June 2009
EXPAT HEALTH Causes and cures of types of meningitis In this regular column on medical conditions, Dr Sneh Khemka, Medical Director, BUPA International, explains meningitis.The term Meningitis strikes fear into the heart of every parent, as it is a disease associated with death, severe illness and long-term complications, killing thousands of people every year. In the recent few years, there have been highly successful awareness campaigns in developed countries to help the untrained eye spot the condition early. Meningitis is an infection of the meninges – the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. In the UK, there are around 5,000 reported cases of meningitis every year. The most serious and dangerous forms of meningitis come from a bacterial infection. However, it can also be caused by viruses, although these tend to have a more indolent clinical progress. The disease can be spread through close contact, for example from kissing, coughs and sneezes, and is often highly contagious. Babies and young children are most at risk of getting meningitis, but it can affect people of all ages. Young children are at higher risk of developing the disease for two main reasons: first, their immune system is not as strong as an adult’s and therefore not as able to fight the bacteria off; second, they are more likely to be in an environment where the bug is spread quickly, for example a school/nursery. Sometimes meningitis can occur from a complication of another infection, or a head injury or brain surgery. It can rarely be caused by a fungal infection. Effective vaccines are available to prevent some types of bacterial meningitis, but not all, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms of the meningitis so you can take action. It can be difficult to recognise meningitis, as the symptoms can often resemble those of ’flu. However,you should seek urgent medical advice if you suspect meningitis. The main symptoms are a high temperature combined with headache, a stiff or painful neck and a sensitivity to light. This may be accompanied by vomiting, confusion and even fits. If a rash develops alongside one or more of these symptoms, it is highly suggestive of meningitis. If a rash is present, you should do the ‘tumbler test’ – press a see-through glass or tumbler against the rash. If the rash does not disappear or whiten, immediate medical attention is required. Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but the name of the game is to get them in early. Urgent treatment is the most important factor in determining whether someone will recover from meningitis, so you should not be afraid to go to the hospital at the earliest sign. Although most people have no after-effects from meningitis, severe cases can cause lasting complications, including learning difficulties, memory loss, coordination problems or paralysis of parts of the body, vision and hearing problems, skin scarring and liver or kidney damage. If your doctor thinks that you have bacterial meningitis or septicaemia they will refer you to hospital immediately for treatment. The length of time spent in hospital will vary depending on the severity of the disease. If the diagnosis is of viral meningitis, the treatment depends on the severity of the disease. Some cases can be dealt with at home with painkillers only; supportive care in hospital may be required for severe infection, but there is often no specific treatment for the virus infection. The symptoms will usually clear up within two weeks, although cases have been known to last up to three months. There are a number of vaccines that can prevent the majority of viral and bacterial cases of meningitis. These include: ● the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination, ● the meningitis C vaccination, and ● the DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccination, which provides protection against the Hib virus, as well as diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio. If you have children, they should receive these vaccines as part of May/June 2009 ● EXPAT INVESTOR 15 their childhood immunisation schedule. If you are unsure whether you or your child’s vaccinations are up to date, it’s best to speak to your doctor. And remember, not all things that resemble meningitis will turn out to be so, but it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially with children.
March April 2009