Today, April 24th, is World Meningitis Day, and yesterday I participated in a webinar designed to share information about this devastating disease. The experts on the panel, Alyson Schafer, Dr. Dave Greenberg, and Furakh Mir, provided a wealth of information on prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes. Furakh, founder of Meningitis Relief Canada (MRC), shared her own story as the mother of a child who contracted meningitis at one week old.(He is now a happy and healthy toddler, but continues to be monitored for any possible developmental issues arising from his early illness.) You can read her son’s full story on the MRC website.
Meningitis has always scared me, but I really didn’t know too much about it. What I did know was that it is a potentially life-threatening disease, that presents much like a flu. This is scary, because the symptoms could so easily be dismissed, and by the time these symptoms are recognised for what they are, it could be too late. One important point that Furakh made in her talk, and that Dr. Dave really emphasised as well, is to trust your instincts on this one. You know your child better than anyone else. Your child may have a fever and still be able to play and essentially still act like themselves. But if you notice a marked change in behaviour, lethargy, etc., and your child doesn’t seem “right,” bring them to your doctor or the hospital. Be sure your physician understands the behaviour change, and advocate for further tests or care. (But don’t be rude!)
I encourage you to visit Meninfo.ca to learn more about this disease, its symptoms, prevention and more. Knowledge is power. Know what you’re looking for!
I’m going to share with you some myths and facts about this disease, which actually is a pretty good synopsis of key points from the webinar.
Meningitis Disease Myths and Facts
There is only one type of meningitis. MYTH Meningitis can be caused by different germs including viral, bacterial and fungal. A viral infection is less severe and can typically be treated at home. Bacterial meningitis occurs when bacteria enters the blood and migrates to the spinal area. Given the rapid progression and severity of meningitis, medical attention should be sought immediately if someone suspects meningitis.
Meningitis has flu like symptoms. FACT Early symptoms of meningitis are similar to flu symptoms, including fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting. Other symptoms can include confusion, light sensitivity and no interest in eating or drinking. If you notice these symptoms, seek medical attention.
Meningitis is easy to diagnose. MYTH Because early symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses especially the flu, cases of meningitis can be overlooked and misdiagnosed initially. It’s important at the onset of symptoms to seek immediate treatment.
Meningitis will go away on its own. MYTH Bacterial meningitis requires quick and aggressive treatment and can result in devastating consequences including varying degrees of blindness, deafness, paralysis and intellectual disabilities or death.
Canadian children and young adults are most susceptible to meningitis. FACT Children under one year of age and adolescents (15-19 years old) are among the age groups with the highest incidence of meningitis.5 College and university students are also susceptible to contracting meningitis 6 because of their increased likelihood of sharing items such as drinks, utensils and cigarettes.
Meningitis can be contracted by casual contact. MYTH Meningitis is spread through direct contact with an infected person through the droplet route by means of respiratory secretions when air or liquid secretions are shared.
All vaccines to prevent against meningococcal disease are the same. MYTH Most meningococcal infections are caused by five different strains, A, C, Y, W-135, and B. Vaccines are currently available against four of the five strains, A, C, Y and W-135, 8 and a vaccine against the B strain is under review.
Canadian children who have received meningitis vaccines are protected against all strains. MYTH Many Canadians feel that their children are protected against all meningococcal disease, however, this is a misconception. There is currently no protection available for meningitis B,9 however Health Canada is currently reviewing for approval and use for Canadians, the first meningitis B vaccine. This vaccine would be the final piece of the meningitis vaccination puzzle.
And here’s a video produced by Meninfo.ca and released for World Meningitis Day – please share to spread the word and raise awareness!