Brace Yourself – Meningitis Season is Coming

Many people are unaware that Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) actually has a season and that season is upon us right now.

The graph below demonstrates that, over the last 10 years, the incidence of IMD has had its peak in Q3 every year and more detailed data shows that September is the worst month.

The most common risk factor reported amongst cases in 2018 was having a chronic disease (19%) followed by having a smoker in the household (14%), being a current smoker (9%) and attending school or university (9%). The most common age of onset of Meningitis B was 0 years followed by 1 year of age.

The above data and graphs were sourced from https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-meningococcal-W.htm on 31 July 2019.

What to look for:

Dr Kaddy has a great little video on the signs and symptoms here, and the following infographic is also very helpful.

What is meningitis and meningococcal?

Meningitis means inflammation of the membranes ‘meninges’ lining the brain. There are many types of meningitis and while the symptoms are often similar, the causes, treatments and outcomes can vary greatly. Meningococcal is a bacteria that enters the body, however meningococcal disease does not always lead to meningitis. It only leads to meningitis if the bacteria affects the meninges of the brain. 

What causes meningitis?

The organisms that usually cause meningitis and meningococcal include bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. The bacteria that cause meningitis are common and are spread from person-to-person by respiratory secretions. Fortunately, these bacteria rarely cause illness. However, if immunity is low, you are at a higher risk.

How serious is meningitis?

Meningitis is a very serious illness. However, if the cause is diagnosed and treated quickly, most people make a complete recovery. With bacterial meningitis, the patient will usually become very ill within hours. Death occurs in about 5-15% of cases of bacterial meningitis and, in addition, about 20% of patients are left with a permanent disability including cerebral palsy, limb amputation, deafness, or learning difficulty. Prompt antibiotic therapy can mean the difference between life and death.

What can be done to prevent getting meningococcal or meningitis? 

  • Bacterial meningitis:
    • Immunisation. Get your child and yourself immunised with the available meningitis/ meningococcal vaccines. 
    • If you or your child has contact with someone who gets bacterial meningitis, check with your doctor about prevention. 
    • Do NOT share drink bottles or food. 
    • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing. 
    • Wash your hands regularly especially after going to the bathroom or changing a nappy. 
    • Among adults, avoid deep kissing, sharing a drinking glass, lipstick, or food. 
  • Viral meningitis:
    • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough. 
    • Use a tissue or even your elbow to sneeze and cough into, to stop your hands from becoming contaminated. 
    • Wash your hands in warm soapy water after the toilet, gardening, changing a nappy or sneezing and coughing. 
    • Don’t share drinks, food or cigarettes.
    • Avoid bites from mosquitoes and other insects that carry viruses that can infect humans.

What should you do if you think someone might have meningitis?

See your GP immediately. If your GP is not immediately available, call an Ambulance on 000, or go straight to the nearest hospital emergency department. Even if your GP or the hospital has reassured you, do not hesitate to return to the GP or hospital immediately if the symptoms worsen. Remember, meningitis can progress rapidly.

The above information was sourced from Meningitis Australia, the Australian Department of Health and the World Health Organisation.