What exactly is meningitis?
It’s an infection, either viral or bacterial, that overwhelms the body and then travels to the meninges [coverings] of the brain and the spinal cord.
What causes it?
These bacteria sometimes live naturally on the body, but they can overwhelm the body in some cases, and when that happens it can cause meningitis. But in some people it just causes a sore throat, a cough or cold-like symptoms.
Are there particular groups who are more prone to meningitis?
It’s usually the young, the elderly, or those people whose immunity is compromised already.
Do children exhibit different symptoms from adults?
Yes, children often present differently; there may be vomiting, stomach pain, general aches, like with any infection that you get. It’s often that the septicaemia [blood poisoning] takes over the whole body as well.
Can you tell me about how the glass test works?
If the person has a rash, you can hold a glass against it and if it does not fade or disappear that means you should be concerned and definitely seek treatment.
Is meningitis easily treatable?
Well that’s a difficult one. If you identify it early enough then your chances of recovery are much higher, but obviously the later it’s diagnosed then the harder it is to treat. Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, and generally while they’re waiting for the blood cultures to come back to identify whether it’s bacterial or viral, they’ll start the person on the antibiotic treatment because if they don’t, the person could be dead before the results came back.
So how do doctors treat it if it’s viral?
If it’s viral the doctor will generally treat the symptoms like the vomiting, because like all viruses, unfortunately we can’t cure this form with antibiotics; the body has to fight it on its own. While viral meningitis is a less severe illness, it can still be life threatening, so it shouldn’t be underestimated.
If you don’t immediately make the link between your child’s symptoms and the possibility of meningitis, how much time do you have?
Unfortunately time is not on your side; after identifying the symptoms people can be dead within one or two hours – it can be that quick.
Is there a vaccine?
There are vaccines available which prevent certain types of meningitis, but unfortunately not all of them are available in Dubai. For example, children here do get vaccinated against Hib as part of their routine combination vaccines, but MenC is not yet available.
Why is that?
I don’t honestly know, I think it may be to do with distribution licencing, but I hope it becomes available soon.
Are both the viral and bacterial forms of meningitis contagious?
Yes they are. Meningitis is spread like any infection – through coughing, touching, being in close proximity to others – so if a child is diagnosed, the rest of the family will usually be put on antibiotics too, to try and prevent it spreading.
How common is meningitis in Dubai?
If you listened to the gossip going around, you’d think that everybody was dying from it, but actually it’s vary rare [there was one confirmed case of viral meningitis in April which sparked a panic among local parents]. I’ve been in Dubai for two-and-a-half years and I’ve only come across one case. We’ve had a few suspected cases here but they’ve all been negative.
Is it better for parents to panic or to be more laid-back?
Parents should always be aware of these things and know what symptoms to look out for, but I think at the moment people are overreacting a bit because of all the hype that’s going around. People are hearing horror stories and calling us for advice, but when we educate them on the symptoms and how to deal with it, they say, ‘Oh right, that’s OK then.’
Rachel Jex is clinic nurse at the Keith Nicholl Medical Centre (04 394 1000; www.keithnicholl.com).