Take Action and Defeat Meningitis

World Meningitis Day falls on 24 April each year and this year’s theme is “Take Action, Defeat Meningitis”.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. A bacterial or viral infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord usually causes the swelling.Some viral and bacterial meningitis are contagious. They can be transmitted by coughing, sneezing, or close contact. Acute bacterial meningitis develops rapidly, is potentially fatal, and can have a life-changing, permanent impact on survivors, even when adequate treatment is provided.

What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

Persons with meningitis may start out with flu-like symptoms which may rapidly progress (sometimes within hours) causing severe illness or even death.

Symptoms may vary but the most common symptoms occurring in children and adults include:

  • A high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea or stomach pains
  • Painful joints
  • A purplish skin rash that does not disappear when pressed
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Seizures and/or drowsiness that can deteriorate into a coma

Symptoms in infants are harder to detect and could include:

  • A fever with cold hands and feet
  • High pitched moaning or whimpering
  • Blank staring
  • Inactivity
  • Drowsiness
  • Poor feeding
  • Neck retraction with arching of the back, and/or a bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on the baby’s head).

The Fight Against Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Many bacterial meningitis cases and deaths are preventable by vaccination. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the progress in the fight against meningitis, through meningococcal, pneumococcal, Haemophilus influenzae and group B streptococcal vaccines, is lagging other vaccine preventable diseases.

Hence, in 2019 a global road map to defeat meningitis by 2030 was developed by a WHO-led Technical Taskforce. This strategy, targets the organisms responsible for acute bacterial meningitis, through eliminating epidemics, reducing cases and deaths, and reducing disability following meningitis.

You can play your part in helping defeat meningitis by:

  • Raising public awareness of symptoms, signs and consequences of meningitis,
  • Promoting the use and distribution of available vaccines through infant vaccination programmes and amongst high risk groups, and
  • Supporting effective and rapid diagnosis of meningitis and support ongoing surveillance programmes to monitor disease burden.
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