Meningitis



General symptoms of meningitis are a high temperature, headache, sleepiness, joint and muscle pains. These can be accompanied by a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, vomiting, crying, and a rash of reddish-purple pin-prick spots or bruises. Your baby could refuse to feed and you may see a bulging of the soft spot (fontanelle) in her head. Always check with your doctor if you suspect meningitis.

Meningitis is a term that describes the inflammation (swelling) of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This is a serious and rapid infection- seek medical attention immediately if you suspect meningitis. There are three major types of infections that can lead to meningitis, and that are caused by bacteria:

1. Meningococcal disease
Meningococcal disease is spread by the Neisseria meningitides bacteria, usually through coughing and sneezing. It most commonly affects teenagers and young adults in shared housing. Symptoms occur quickly after infection and can be fatal within a few hours. It can cause meningitis and septicaemia (blood infection), and 10-15% of those who survive have permanent damage including loss of limbs, hearing loss, speech disorders, paralysis and intellectual disability.

This disease can be caused by a few types of the bacteria; in Ireland 99% of all meningococcal diseases were caused by serogroups B and C of the bacteria.

The number of cases of meningitis C have dramatically reduced in Ireland since the introduction of a Meningitis C vaccine in 2000. The introduction of a Meningitis B vaccine to the infant immunisation schedule in Ireland in 2016 should further reduce the number of cases of meningococcal disease.
2. Pneumococcal disease
Pneumococcal disease is spread by the Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria, and can cause pneumonia (lung infection), septicaemia (blood infection), middle ear infection and meningitis. There are two types of pneumococcal disease:
(i) non-invasive pneumococcal disease, which is less serious and does not affect the major organs or blood (it commonly causes middle ear infection and pneumonia), and
(ii) invasive pneumococcal disease which affects major organs and the blood and commonly causes a bacterial infection of the blood, meningitis, and pneumonia.

The PCV vaccine protects children from the bacteria that cause pneumococcal disease.
3. Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib)
Hib is caused by Haemophilus influenza type B bacteria, and is most common in young children (under 5) and babies. Despite its name it does not cause the flu, but can cause meningitis. Common signs of meningitis in babies are a high fever, constant crying, excessive sleepiness, inactivity, poor feeding, stiffness of the body and neck and a bulge in the soft spot (fontanelle). Babies may cry harder when picked up and be very difficult to comfort.

The 6-in-1 vaccine protects children from the bacteria that cause Hib.

Bacterial meningitis causes severe complications, temporary and permanent, including personality changes, loss of vision, cerebral palsy (due to damage to the part of the brain that controls movement and posture), hearing loss, learning disabilities, paralysis and speech loss. Young babies and children can develop heart, liver and intestinal problems, and malformed limbs.

Bacterial meningitis can kill you very rapidly (within hours of infection), and about 1 in 10 infected people will die. Babies under 2 years old have the highest risk of infection.