Saturday, January 23News For London

Meningitis: is the fuss really all that serious?

“Harmonie was very floppy and very sleepy, so we took her straight to the hospital and after a few hours a purple bruise like mark begun to form on her nose. Within minutes she was being pumped with fluids and antibiotics – she was now a medical emergency”.

Baby receiving vaccine. Credit: Amanda Mills.

Freya reflects on the moment on 27th of September, 2014 when life as she knew it changed. Her 9-month old daughter Harmonie, who ten days before had just taken her first steps, was deteriorating before her eyes. “As minutes went on the bruise was spreading the little dots were joining together and it looked like her body was turning blue. They put her in a medically induced coma and we’re trying to stabilize her to get her to a hospital with intensive care and who were more specialised in treating children with meningitis. Harmonie’s vital organs were failing she had complete kidney failure. We were told that Harmonie was not going to make it.”

Harmonie was given a ten percent chance of survival. She had her arms and legs amputated and lost the tip of her nose, but beat the odds. Many other children and teenagers, however, do not survive as the disease can strike at deadly speeds.

The Meningitis Research Foundation describes meningitis as the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord, whereas septicaemia is the blood poisoning form of the disease.

According to the Foundation, different symptoms are associated with the two forms of the disease, but survivors can be left with a range of after effects. Many people make full recoveries from the viral form of meningitis whereas bacterial meningitis is more serious and can be caused by a range of different bacteria such as meningococcal bacteria, which accounts for most cases in the UK and Ireland.

Meningococcal disease, which includes meningitis and septicaemia, is caused by a number of Meningoccocal bacteria strains. Though there has been an alarming rise of group W, group B (MenB) claims the majority of meningococcal disease in around 2,000 people in the UK. According to the UK’s largest meningitis charity, Meningitis Now, bacterial meningitis kills more UK children under the age of five than any other infectious disease.

The word meningitis appears to have struck a nerve and fear into the hearts of many parents in the UK in the past week, after making headlines around the country. Freya and other families of children and teenagers who survived bacterial meningitis have signed an online petition calling for the meningitis B vaccine to be offered to all children.

Lyndon Longhorne, meningitis survivor and quadruple amputee joined in on the petition.

The petition comes following the recent death of two-year-old Faye Burdett from Maidstone in Kent after she contracted the meningitis B infection. Her mother Jenny Burdett published pictures of her in hospital in an effort to urge the government to change their vaccination policy.

According to the NHS website “the Men B vaccine is recommended for babies aged 2 months, followed by a second dose at 4 months, and a booster at 12 months”.

Matt Dawson, former rugby player also published images on Twitter of his two-year-old son’s battle with meningitis B.

The NHS website states that babies and young children under five years of age are most at risk of contracting meningitis and septicaemia. However, anyone can get meningitis, especially teenagers who fall into the second at risk group.

Meningitis and symptoms can be seen in the following video (note: symptoms can appear in any order, with some never materializing).

 

Steve Dayman, Founder of Meningitis Now, is no stranger to the disease, having lost his 14-month-old son after he contracted the deadly strain of meningitis in 1982.

 

Following the death of his son, Mr Dayman was instrumental in bringing to the general public the ‘tumbler test’, where parents check if rash symptoms present are serious or not.

Early in February, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, while speaking about substitutes to using the NHS 111 helpline, suggested that parents could use an online alternative. His statements were met with criticism from doctors, survivors and charities; although a Department of Health spokesperson stated that the media misreported the statements.

In a press statement in response to the Health Secretary’s statements, Sue Davie, CEO of Meningitis Now said: “To suggest that people look for an online diagnosis for a rash, rather than seek medical help, could have serious consequences for anyone who has contracted meningitis. We know that swift action saves lives and significantly improves the outcome for people who have the disease. To advise people to delay seeking medical advice when they see a rash in favour of comparing their rash with online images is a serious error of judgement by the Health Secretary and advice that should simply be ignored.”

Bexsero, a meningitis B vaccine that has proven to be effective is available to babies born on or after 1st July 2015 on the NHS scheme. Parents of children born before the 1st July 2015 wishing to have them vaccinated must instead pay for the treatment privately, which can cost up to £130 a dose.

Ms Sarah Wollaston, a senior Tory MP and doctor while speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday said: “This is a terrible disease but we need decisions about vaccinations, in my view, to be guided by the evidence about who is going to benefit and how cost-effective the vaccines are. As we move into an age of ever more expensive vaccinations you have to ask the question: would you save more children’s lives if you spent that money on something else?.”

Thousands disagree with Ms Wollaston and have continued to sign the online petition which has garnered more than 600,000 signatures from persons demanding change to policy.

 

Words: Jay Belmar

Sub-editor: Diana Odero