Sunday, September 18, 2016
Meningitis can be a life-threatening illness if it isn’t detected early. The most worrying part is that many of the early stages of meningitis present themselves as flu-like symptoms, or come off the back of a viral infection like the flu. This can often make detection even harder. However, familiarising yourself with the key signs of meningitis and trusting your instincts when it comes to your own health, or that of someone you know could save a life.
Meningitis affects the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. When a person has meningitis, these membranes, called meninges, become infected with bacteria which causes severe blood poisoning. The two main strains of meningitis are viral and bacterial meningitis; however, there is also parasitic, fungal and non-infectious meningitis.
Viral meningitis is the most common strain of meningitis and is considered less serious. Bacterial meningitis is rarer, but can be more dangerous if left untreated, causing severe blood poisoning, and in the most serious cases, brain damage and even death.
There are several different viruses and bacteria which can cause meningitis, these include meningococcal bacteria, enteroviruses pneumococcal bacteria, the mumps virus and the herpes virus. However, there are a number of vaccinations available that prevent these infections.
While vaccinations can be a good prevention method, it’s still worth knowing how to recognise the symptoms of both the viral and bacterial meningitis. The key symptoms are fever, headache and neck stiffness, which usually appear rapidly. However, there are others to be mindful of, including:
Fever with high temperature over 37.5C
Neck stiffness and pain
Aching muscles and joints
Nausea and/or being sick
An adversity to bright light
Confusion or disorientation
Rash that appears as blotchy spots on the skin that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
Cold hands and feet
Fits or seizures
In children, there may be other unusual signs to look out for:
Irritability, lack of energy and unresponsiveness
High pitched crying in babies
A soft bulge on the head of babies
The symptoms of meningitis can present themselves in any order, with some patients experiencing all or just some of them, which can make it harder to spot. You should also be aware that the most recognisable sign, the rash, doesn’t always appear in patients and may not show in the early stages either, so don’t hold out for the rash before you seek medical attention.
Furthermore, correct diagnosis is also often hindered by symptoms such as fever, headache and aching joints which are very similar to flu-like infection, as well as other symptoms like chills, cold feet and hands and sickness. However, a key distinction is that the symptoms of meningitis usually have a sudden onset and invariably patients have neck stiffness that is not associated with the flu. Also, with flu, sufferers tend to have a cough or respiratory symptom, which you won’t see with meningitis.
For peace of mind, if you or someone you know shows any of the signs of meningitis, you should contact your GP immediately. Describe all the symptoms to your doctor and they will advise you on the best course of action. If you’re unable to reach your doctor or you’re in no doubt that it is meningitis, head straight to your nearest A&E department to get immediate diagnosis and treatment. The longer you wait, the greater the risk of more serious problems.
Recognising the signs of meningitis, as well as differentiating them from flu symptoms is key to getting fast and effective treatment for both viral and bacterial meningitis. The important thing to take from this is to stay alert and act fast.