Nicola Wainwright talks on the importance of early diagnoses of meningitis
Sam was 4 months old when he developed a cough and a cold. One Saturday night his parents could not get him to sleep; he just would not settle. He cried, and cried, and the following morning his temperature was raised.
Over the following week he seemed quiet and looked peaky, but then seemed to improve.
However, then he developed a temperature of 39 degrees. His fontanelle was bulging. His parents sought medical advice but were reassured he had a virus.
The following afternoon Sam’s condition deteriorated. He began to look grey and was very lethargic. He did not smile or react to his parents. They took him straight to A&E.
The doctors in A&E chose to monitor Sam for a short while.
They assessed him as “back to normal” whilst his parents were clear he was far from it.
Sam’s Dad described his son as looking much more ill than he had before. He was not passing urine and did not want to feed. Despite this Sam was discharged home.
At home Sam did not sleep and continued to cry. By the following morning he had developed a grunting type of moan, which was low quiet but persistent.
His parents took him back to the hospital. His breathing became laboured and not long after arrival at hospital Sam’s limbs began to twitch.
He was suffering seizures and at that stage the doctors started emergency resuscitation and gave Sam antibiotics.
Sam was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis.
Despite his parents’ best efforts to ensure he received prompt treatment in Sam’s case the doctors’ delays in diagnosing meningitis meant that he suffered permanent hearing loss and left sided weakness.
Pneumococcus is a bacterium that can be carried harmlessly in the back of the throat by both adults and children. There are over 90 strains but only a small minority commonly cause meningitis.
Pneumococcal meningitis is a life-threatening infectious disease that causes inflammation of the layers that surround the brain and spinal cord.
There are around 200 reported cases of pneumococcal meningitis each year in the UK. Most of these occur in babies and young children under 18 months of age, although people with conditions that affect their immune systems and the elderly are also at an increased risk.
Pneumococcal meningitis requires rapid admission to hospital and urgent treatment with antibiotics.
25% of those who survive pneumococcal meningitis can be left with severe and disabling after-effects. Approximately 15% of cases will result in death.
If treated promptly, pneumococcal meningitis is less likely to become life threatening.
That is why being aware of the symptoms is crucial.
Sadly we see many clients, like Sam, who received treatment too late to avoid injury.
He did not have a rash or neck stiffness, the symptoms many, including those doctors who saw him, believe are the main signs of meningitis. In fact, many patients do not develop those symptoms and their absence does not mean they do not have meningitis.
The charity Meningitis Now publish signs and symptoms checkers which could literally save lives so please have a look at their website https://www.meningitisnow.org/meningitis-explained/signs-and-symptoms/