Meningitis is a life-threating infection. It strikes very quickly and unless it is treated promptly there can be devastating consequences including death, severe brain damage, loss of hearing and vision, and when septicaemia (blood poisoning) also occurs, which is often the case, this can lead to amputation of limbs.
There are five main groups of meningococcal disease around the world; A, B, C, W and Y. Group B is the most common the UK.
The story of Kia Gott from Bradford, who at 9 months’ old contracted meningitis C is heart wrenching. Kia underwent emergency surgery to save her life and had to have all four of her limbs amputated. From 01 July 2016, the meningitis C vaccine that was routinely given to 12 week old babies was discontinued from the NHS childhood vaccination programme. Instead the government decided that children would be offered the meningitis C vaccine at 12 months of age. Had Kia been born a few months earlier she would have received the meningitis C vaccine at 12 weeks old and her chances of contracting the disease would have been greatly reduced. On balance she would have avoided the injuries she sustained and their life changing consequences.
The meningitis C vaccination was introduced in January 1999. Prior to this there were numerous cases of meningitis C a year that resulted in death or life changing injuries. As a result of the vaccine the number of cases of meningitis C fell by 96% to around 30 to 40 cases each year. One of the main reasons the NHS decided to withdraw the meningitis C vaccine at 12 weeks old was because the incidents of meningitis C had dropped significantly. The NHS website states: “The success of the MenC vaccination programme means there are almost no cases of MenC disease in babies or young children in the UK any longer”.
Statistics released by Public Health England reveal that in 2014 to 2015 (01 July 2014 to 30 June 2015) 1 child up to the age of 5 contracted meningitis C; from 2015 to 2016 the figure rose to 2 children and from 2016 to 2017 the figure rose again to 6 children. In babies up to 12 months, the figures rose from 1 case in 2014 to 2015, 1 case in 2015 to 2016 to 4 cases in 2016 to 2017.
Whilst I acknowledge that there has indeed been a significant reduction in cases of meningitis C since the introduction of the vaccine in 1999, it is evident that the vaccine has not eradicated meningitis C in its entirety and the consequence of meningitis C continue to be devastating. The statistics reveal that from 01 July 2016, when the change to the vaccination age was implemented, that the incidences of meningitis C in babies up to the age of 12 months have quadrupled. Therefore, there is a strong argument that by providing the vaccine at 12 weeks of age instead of 12 months of age the risk of contracting the disease is reduced. This will also save the NHS money from having to treat the disease and often its life-long consequences.
It is important that parents familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia. The charity, Meningitis now warns that you must not wait for a rash. In babies and toddlers they list the following signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Fever, cold hands and feet
- Fretful, dislike being handled
- Rapid breathing or grunting
- Unusual cry, moaning
- Stiff neck, dislike bright lights
- Refuse food and vomiting
- Drowsy, floppy, unresponsive
- Pale, blotchy skin, spots, rash
- Tense, bulging fontanelle (soft spot)
It is imperative that meningitis is treated as quickly as possible. Delay in treatment can result in serious injuries and even death. At Kingsley Napley LLP we have experience is dealing with cases involving delays in diagnosis of meningitis leading to death and serious injuries, including brain injury.