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Do your bit to prevent meningitis!
Dr Gitanjali Puthran |
May 04, 2005
e are all aware of the meningitis deaths in New Delhi.
It has claimed three lives in Bara Hindu Rao and Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Narain Hospitals, and several infected patients have been admitted to hospitals in the capital.
While the Delhi government and Health Minister Yoganand Shastri have confirmed there is no epidemic, this is a call to you: Please take this illness seriously. Children, particularly, are most susceptible to meningitis.
If not caught early, this disease could prove fatal.
Get Ahead provides some basic information about meningitis and the preventive measures you could take:
Meningitis means infection or inflammation of membranes enclosing brain and spinal cord.
Here are some of the basic kinds of meningitis:
1. Viral meningitis
It is the most common form of meningitis.
A variety of common viruses can cause viral meningitis, and anyone can get affected. Once infected, you can be cured completely if you are treated in the early stages.
2. Bacterial meningitis
This is an extremely serious bacterial infection.
It has the potential to cause long-term complications, like deafness or brain injury, even death.
Bacterial meningitis requires immediate treatment.
Haemophilus influenzae, also known as H influenzae, is one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis. It rarely affects adults. It is seen mainly in children below the age of five.
It can spread!
Any form of meningitis can spread through direct contact with an infected person.
- Direct exposure to oral (saliva) or nasal secretions, which result from coughing or sneezing
- Kissing, eating from the same utensils, water bottles or drinking glasses, sharing cigarettes, etc.
Bacterial meningitis can spread between people in close proximity for long periods of time, like at school or home.
Meningitis: the symptoms
Symptoms for viral meningitis can develop within a day or two. But those for bacterial meningitis take longer.
i. Severe headaches and high fever.
ii. This is followed gradually by vomitting, a stiff neck, joint pains, drowsiness and confusion.
In the case of meningococcal meningitis (another form of bacterial meningitis), a rash of tiny, red-purple spots or bruises may occur anywhere on the body.
iii. One of the most distinguishing symptoms of meningitis is convulsions.
If someone at home is suffering from meningitis:
The primary way to combat the spread of viral or bacterial meningitis is through vaccination for children, frequent and proper hand washing and overall hygiene.
Bacterial meningitis can spread if you are in close proximity with an infected person for long periods of time. So be very careful if a family member is suffering from meningitis.
i. First, call your family doctor or seek treatment at the nearest hospital immediately. The earlier the disease is caught, the better the chances of full recovery.
ii. Avoid contact with the infected person.
iii. Do NOT share personal items.
iv. Wash your hands regularly.
v. Make sure the patient covers his/her mouth while coughing or sneezing with a handkerchief.
vi. Keep the environment around the infected person clean. When discharged from the infected person, infecting agents survive for a short time on environmental surfaces like walls, floors and fixtures.
vii. If you have children in the family, make sure they receive appropriate vaccinations immediately. Make sure your child is immunised with H influenzae vaccines. This is part of a child's routine immunisation procedure, and will prevent bacterial meningitis.
viii. Children with a weak immune system may be vaccinated for meningococcal disease.
ix. Tuberculosis could also lead to a form of bacterial meningitis known as Tuberculous Meningitis. In such cases, vaccine for tuberculosis is available.
Unfortunately, vaccinations for other forms of meningitis are not available.
If you follow the correct preventive measures, you could prevent an epidemic. The best way to prevent the spread of a disease is by spreading word. Do your bit!
Dr Gitanjali Puthran is a paediatrician at Karuna Hospital, Mumbai. She spoke to Ameeta Gupta