What is meningitis? How did it originate?
Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It is a serious disease that can lead to blood poisoning (septicaemia), kill rapidly within a few hours, and leave survivors with severe disabilities. It was identified in the late 19th century and the first vaccines were developed in the 20th century. There are 5 main groups of meningitis that cause disease – A, C, W, Y and B.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
Symptoms develop quickly and can resemble those of flu or a hangover. They include fever, headache, vomiting, a stiff neck, sensitivity to light, drowsiness and muscle and joint pain.
In children and babies symptoms can also include becoming unresponsive and floppy, stiff with jerking movements, cold feet and hands, shivering, blotchy or pale skin, blue lips, irritability, refusing food, staring, and sleepiness.
Babies may also have a bulging soft spot on their head, and a high pitched cry.
If you suspect meningitis, call 999 immediately.
How is meningitis transmitted?
Meningitis is caused by viruses and bacteria which live in the noses and at the back of people’s throats. Bacterial meningitis is usually much more serious than viral meningitis. Both are spread via contact with saliva, mainly by sneezing, coughing, kissing and sharing utensils.
Teenagers are at a higher risk of contracting meningitis as they usually mix with many different people at a close proximity, especially when going to university.
What is the transmission seasonality?
Meningitis cases have been shown to peak during the winter months in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
What are the infected areas in the world?
The meningococcal bacteria which causes meningitis is found all over the world. Epidemics occur across the ‘meningitis belt’ which runs between Senegal and Ethiopia, and outbreaks have been recorded at the Hajj pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia as well as in Moscow, Russia.
What is a meningitis certificate?
A meningitis certificate is a document proving you have been vaccinated against meningitis. You must have a valid certificate proving you have been vaccinated against meningitis in order to travel to some places, such as Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimages.
Is meningitis curable?
Hospital treatment is usually required for cases of bacterial meningitis and less commonly for viral meningitis. Treatment may include injections of antibiotics, a drip for rehydration, and oxygen. Steroids may be used if there is swelling around the brain.
How to prevent meningitis?
The best way to prevent meningitis is to get vaccinated. There are a number of vaccines that can help protect you, some of which you may have already received over your lifetime.
Basic personal hygiene such as washing your hands often and covering a cough or sneeze can help prevent the spread of respiratory infections like meningitis. However, vaccination is most effective at lowering the risk of a life threatening infection.
How long before a trip do you have to get the meningitis vaccine?
You should get the MenACWY vaccine to protect you against meningitis at least 2 weeks before you travel.
Who should get the meningitis vaccine?
Travellers to high risk areas, including sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia and parts of Latin America should get vaccinated against meningitis with the MenACWY vaccine, especially if you plan to stay long, or live or work closely with local people or in a healthcare setting. You should get this even if you were vaccinated against meningitis C as a child.
If you are travelling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj or pilgrimages, you must have a valid certificate showing you have been vaccinated.
Who should not get the meningitis vaccine?
The CDC recommends that you avoid the MenACWY vaccine if you have are allergic the vaccine or any of its ingredients.
Check with your doctor or nurse before getting the MenACWY vaccine if you:
- bruise easily, or have a bleeding problem, such as haemophilia
- have a fever
- are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What is the minimum age requirement for the meningitis vaccine?
Infants can be vaccinated against meningitis from the age of 2 months.
What is the effectiveness of the meningitis vaccine?
According to the CDC, the vaccine is highly effective.
What are the side effects of the meningitis vaccine?
The side effects of the MenACWY vaccine are generally mild and last no more than 24 hours. Redness, itching and hardening around the injection site is common, as is fever, headache, nausea and fatigue.
A small, painless lump may appear, but usually disappears in a few weeks.
How many jabs are needed?
Protection against meningitis A, C W and Y is given via a single injection in the upper arm.
How long does it last for?
The MenACWY vaccine protects you for about 5 years.
When and where was the last outbreak of meningitis?
Outbreaks of bacterial meningitis affect millions people every year in the ‘African meningitis belt’ which stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia. The last large scale epidemic affected 80,000 people, mainly in Nigeria and Niger.