What you need to know about meningitis

By Jacques Myburgh
23 February 2016

“I’m just grateful there were people who quickly realised something was wrong with my child."

Uewellyn Whittaker started to feeling ill in mid-January while he was in Cape Town on business.

“I began to suffer intense headaches and neck pain,” the Mossel Bay resident told YOU.

It was then that his wife called to say their three-year-old son Nathan had been diagnosed with meningitis. He had had a lumbar puncture in hospital and  was discharged the same day.

“When I arrived back in Mossel Bay I discovered that I’d been infected by Nathan.”

According to Uewellyn, Nathan's preschool teachers Kids Kingdom took action immediately when they saw Nathan wasn’t looking well, and called them when he began to vomit.

“I’m just grateful there were people who quickly realised something was wrong with my child. Some of the schools in the area don’t send their children home when they see something is wrong.”

The Western Cape seaside town was hit with between 35 and 40 cases of viral meningitis in three weeks – mostly pre-schoolers – says Bay View Hospital's Dr Heinrich Sandilands, a paediatrician at the hospital.

“It’s not unusual to have a lot of cases at this time of year. In December holidaymakers stream into Mossel Bay and infect one another – but this year there was a peak that was unusual,” he says.

Eighteen cases of meningitis were diagnosed at Kids Kingdom in January.

According to Georgia Argyropoulo, head mistress of the pre-school,  many of the surrounding schools weren't doing enough to combat with the outbreak, which she called "a large-scale epidemic".

Georgia says her staff have been giving extra attention to the hygiene of the children and staff, but if one child gets sick others are infected.

She and some of the parents have signed a petition to bring the issue to the attention of the mayor.

“Awareness must be created in other schools or we won’t get rid of this epidemic.”

Georgie says she and two other pre-schools had to close their schools for two weeks to try to beat the virus. It’s so infectious some parents, like Uewellyn, also fell ill.

These are the two most common types of meningitis:  

1.    Viral meningitis

This is the most common type and the least dangerous. It’s caused by an enterovirus but can also be caused by measles or chicken pox viruses.

Symptoms:

  • Temperature
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea

How to prevent it:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Avoid contact with an infected person
  • Make sure you’re vaccinated against chicken pox and measles

2.    Bacterial meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is life-threatening. If it’s not treated properly it can cause brain damage, deafness and possibly death. This type of meningitis is caused by bacteria that get into the bloodstream and end up in the brain and vertebrae.

Symptoms:

  • Bacterial meningitis has the same symptoms as the viral type, which is why it’s important the right diagnosis is made, says Dr Sandilands.
  • Sensitivity to light
  • The diagnosis can be confused with a cold, which is why it’s important to obtain medical help as soon as possible.

How to prevent it:

  • The best way to prevent it is to be vaccinated
  • Bacteria are spread from one person to another by saliva or by sneezing. A high standard of hygiene is encouraged.

Extra source: Everyday Health

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