by Joshua Irvine-Naderali
What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of a membrane called the meninges (menin-jeeze!). This membrane serves to protect the central nervous system from damage. When the protective layer is damaged, harmful bacteria or viruses from the blood stream can pass through it and attack the brain and spinal cord. This can cause side effects ranging from mere cold-like symptoms to confusion, seizures and death to rapidly ensue.
How do you get meningitis?
Bacterial and viral infections are the most common causes of meningitis and so the modes of transmission are typical of other infections: sneezing, kissing, sharing living spaces etc. Interestingly, bacteria responsible for meningitis can be found in up to 10% of the population at any given time. This reservoir of infection may migrate into the bloodstream where it can propagate and access the meninges and thus the problem starts. Coming into close contact with people increases the chances of becoming infected and as such young children in school, teenagers, and those with weaker immune systems such as babies and the elderly are most at risk from the illness.
Can it be treated?
Yes it can be treated, but the potency of each treatment is determined by the cause. Meningococcal disease is a combination of meningitis and septicaemia, the latter being blood poisoning caused by the bacteria releasing toxins. Unfortunately around 15% of individuals who develop meningococcal disease will be severely impacted by disabilities that are often permanent due to damage to the respective parts of their body, such as: memory, hearing, sight or limb loss. Incidence amongst teenagers entering university is on the rise too and so seeking medical help is key if your cold-like symptoms drastically worsen into vomiting, rash or convulsions.
Why do I need the vaccine?
The characters of the Men(ingitis) ACWY vaccine denote the most common types of bacterial meningitis that offers immunity towards. This vaccine generates an immune response by the body by exposing it to a weaker form of the bacteria so the body is well prepared. The W strain affects freshers the most, though the vaccine is offered to all up to the age of 25.
Prevention is better than cure so the best course of action is to request the Men ACWY vaccine from your GP practice! Meningitis is particularly dangerous because the symptoms do not always fall linearly. Someone may wake up with a headache and fever, another may wake up with a rash and vomiting. If your health deteriorates within hours seek medical help. If in any doubt: seek medical help! Minutes really can make a difference, so it’s always better to err on the side of caution.