Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges, the linings surrounding the brain. It can be caused by bacteria and viruses. Septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream and multiplying uncontrollably.
Bacterial meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia are very serious and need urgent treatment with antibiotics. Meningitis is mainly caused by the meningococcal bacteria, but can also be caused by the pneumococcal, Haemophilus influenzae b (Hib) and tuberculosis (TB) bacteria amongst others. Escherichia coli (E. coli) and group B streptococcal bacteria can also cause meningitis in newborn babies.
The meningococcus (Neisseria meningitis) has five main groups – A, B, C, W135 and Y. In Ireland , group B meningococcal disease accounts for the majority of cases (around 93%). Group C causes the highest number of remaining cases (around 6%). Group Y accounts for a small number of cases each year. Group A rarely causes disease.
Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis. It is rarely life-threatening, but it can make people very weak. Viral meningitis can be caused by many different viruses. Some are spread by people coughing and sneezing, or through poor hygiene or sewage-polluted water.
The bacteria are very common and live naturally in the back of the nose and throat. They normally spread between people in close and prolonged contact by coughing, sneezing and intimate kissing. They do not live for very long outside the body, so can’t be picked up from water supplies, swimming pools or buildings.
People of any age can carry the bacteria for days, weeks or months without becoming ill and carrying the bacteria can help to make you more immune to meningitis. Occasionally, the bacteria overcome the body’s defences and cause meningitis and septicaemia. The bacteria which can cause meningitis in newborn babies are commonly found in the intestine.
Meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia may not always be easy to spot at first, because the symptoms can be similar to those of flu. They may develop over one or two days, but sometimes develop in a matter of hours. The incubation period is between two and 10 days. Symptoms do not appear in any particular order and some may not appear at all. It is important to remember that other symptoms may occur and that the patient may be confused or disoriented. Both adults and children may have a rash
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.