“It strikes with little or no warning and can be fatal, hence it needs aggressive therapy”

Meningitis - the inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain and the spinal cord, due to bacterial or viral infection affects infants because of their low immunity level and can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated immediately.

The threat of meningitis and the need to create awareness among people, particularly parents, was once again highlighted during the sixth World Meningitis Day observed by the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) on April 24 with the theme “join hands against meningitis”. CoMO stresses the need to let everyone know that vaccines against meningitis are available and that the infant must be vaccinated against the disease, and also supports those who are suffering with the after effects of meningitis like deafness, damage to the brain, mental retardation, eplilepsy and loss of use of limbs, among others. CoMo also says meningitis can attack any one at any age. It wants the vaccine to be provided free of cost to all.

Around 12 lakh children are infected world wide every year and of them 1.2 lakh did not survive while double that number end with severe disabilities.

There are two types of meningitis - viral and bacterial. While viral meningitis heals on its own, bacterial type can become a serious problem if not detected and treated early, says secretary of Visakhapatnam branch of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics K. Ravi Kiran Reddy. Children under five years of age are most susceptible. “It strikes with little or no warning and can be fatal, which means medical emergency and needs aggressive therapy,” he says.

Initial symptoms of bacterial meningitis are sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff-neck, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, not able to tolerate bright light. The symptoms are similar to common flu and all may not be seen. Laboratory tests along with initial clinical signs are important for early diagnosis and treatment, he says.

Mortality rate due to bacterial meningitis in India being noticeably high in spite of use of antibiotics, between 16 per cent and 32 per cent due to antibiotic resistance, makes vaccination very important to prevent the disease, secretary of IAP local branch R. Atchum Naidu points out.

Senior paediatrician and former State president of IAP K. Radhakrishna says availability of vaccines-pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, meningococcal vaccine and the vaccine for haemophilus influenza type B (HiB), the risk of meningitis, which was huge some years ago, has reduced considerably. These vaccines also prevent other problems like pneumonia, otitis media (inflation of middle ear), septicaemia and epiglottitis (inflammation of flap at the base of the tongue).

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