With swine flu on the back burner at the moment, it's timely to just pass on a warning about meningitis which rears its ugly head during the winter months. In fact, nearly 60% of the most serious bacterial types occur between October and March, and although the disease affects all ages, over half of those cases will be in children under 5. Fighting common infections like colds and flu weakens people’s immune systems, leaving them more vulnerable to meningitis. People are also at increased risk as in winter they tend to spend more time indoors and in closer proximity to others, which means germs are spread more easily. With the current cold snap set to continue, more people will be spending time trapped indoors, trying to keep warm, which could potentially mean a higher risk of the disease.
Sue Davie, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Trust, says; “Meningitis is a disease that strikes quickly and can kill, if left untreated, in just a few hours. With experts suggesting that the bad weather could continue for a few weeks, we are urging people to remain vigilant to the symptoms. Worryingly, the symptoms can easily look like other, more common conditions, such as flu or swine flu. But, it’s important to err on the side of caution, be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis, and seek medical attention as a matter of urgency if you suspect the disease.”
Common signs and symptoms include fever (possibly with cold hands and feet), vomiting, headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, joint or muscle pain, drowsiness, confusion and, also, in babies, dislike of being handled, pale blotchy skin, unusual cry, and a blank staring expression. Both adults and children may have a rash (septicaemia) that doesn’t fade under pressure. Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all. Rapid deterioration will take hold if left untreated.
Visit www.meningitis-trust.org or call the 24-hour helpline, staffed by nurses, on 0800 028 18 28 to get a full list of symptoms.