Conditions and syndromes that can result in deafblindness
In Britain, the reported cases of meningitis and septicaemia reached a 50 year peak during the winter of 1996/97; more notifications of the disease than in any year since 1947. The number of cases of meningitis and septicaemia in young adults, 15-24 years, has doubled in the last 2 years. The Meningitis Research Foundation is currently funding 2 research projects to look at acquisition and carriage rates of the bacteria in University Students, and whether there are social, psychological or biological factors that increase the risk of meningococcal disease in young people. This research is further compounded by the recent tragic deaths of three undergraduates from meningococcal septicaemia and highlights the trend of increasing numbers of deaths from this disease.
What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is a condition in which inflammation of the linging (meninges) of the brain and spinal cord occurs due to a bacterial or viral infection. Meningitis is usually bacterial or viral, but in rare cases it can be caused by fungus. In its bacterial form the condition is life threatening. The viral form is usually less severe.
At least 50 species of bacteria can cause meningitis, but the main types are: Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, Group B Streptococcal, Ecoli, Listeria, Haemophilus influenzae B (Hib) and Tubercular (TB). In some of these forms of meningitis, namely meningococcal and group B Streptococcal, septicaemia occurs. Septicaemia is a form of blood poisoning and when it occurs on its own it is more life-threatening.
Most adult cases of meningitis are pneumococcal, although it can also occur in children. It is the most dangerous form of meningitis, having the highest risk of death, of long-term neurological damage and of relapsing. Most cases of neonatal meningitis results from infection with Group B Streptococcal bacteria which are carried by at least 5% of people and are usually harmless. Septicaemia is sometimes the main feature, especially in newborn babies, although a rash is not normally seen. In rare cases adults may also suffer from this disease.
Meningitis is sometimes caused by bacteria such as Ecoli and Listeria particularly in babies, elderly people and those with weakened immune systems. Many other bacteria even more rarely cause meningitis in the same way.
This type of meningitis is usually relatively mild, with symptoms of headache, fever and general ill feeling, although further meningitis symptoms may occur. Since people often recover without medical treatment, the incidence of viral meningitis is unknown, but it is probably more common than bacterial meningitis. Most cases are caused by enteroviruses that normally produce stomach upsets and diarrhoea, but may also be caused by the mumps virus, the measles virus, herpes and, rarely, insect-carried viruses. Viral meningitis is not normally considered to be contagious. Although most people recover from viral meningitis within a fortnight, it may take longer, and some people experience prolonged after-effects.
Fungal meningitis is quite rare. It may be caused by: candida
albicans, a fungus which normally causes thrush. In rare cases, it
can cause a dangerous form of meningitis, primarily in premature babies
with very low birth weight; cryptococcus neoformans, a fungus commonly
found in soil. It causes most cases of fungal meningitis. It
generally only occurs in people with weakened immune systems.
Meningitis is a devastating disease which can kill in hours. Early diagnosis is crucial. Knowing the signs and symptoms of meningitis and acting quickly can save lives.
Symptoms of meningitis can include: a rash, though this is not present in all cases, drowsiness or impaired consciousness, fever and vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck and a dislike of bright lights. In addition to these symptoms, septicaemia can also occur and symptoms could therefore include cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, and abdominal, joint and muscle pain, sometimes with diarrhoea. Not everyone develops all these symptoms and meningococcal septicaemia can appear with or without meningitis.
Babies may also suffer from: tense or bulging fontanelle, blotchy
or pale skin, refusing to feed, fretfulness with a shrill or moaning cry
when handled, and body stiffening with involuntary movements, or a floppy
body. Babies born prematurely or with low birth weight have a higher
risk of all forms of neonatal meningitis. Prolonged labour after
rupture of membranes also increases the risk of neonatal meningitis.
Possible after-effects/resulting disabilities:
Not only do most people survive meningitis and septicaemia, but many people, possibly as many as eight out of ten, make a complete recovery. The reason, however, that it is difficult to give a precise figure, is that some of the after-effects of meningitis are non-specific, and it can therefore be difficult to be 100% certain whether they have been caused by the disease. This can be very distressing to the person concerned, all the more so because it can make it more difficult to get the support you need.