Sunday, 23 September 2012

Meningitis - Keep Watching.

This time last year, I went to a really interesting  blogger event about meningitis.  It was fascinating, terrifying and reassuring in equal parts, and I came away full of enthusiasm about making sure that everyone out there, be they parent or not, has access to a meningitis symptom app or card, and, better, knows what those symptoms are, and, should they find them, where to get help.

To my shame, though, I also, said "and if you've got any questions, put them in the comments, and I will ask an expert".  But I never did, so now I am.

Because the three main meningitis charities, The Meningitis Trust which supports people affected by Meningitis in the UK, Meningitis UK which does pure research into finding vaccines to prevent against all forms of meningitis and The Meningitis Research Foundation which funds research, supports those affected and raises awareness, have recently launched a new campaign.

It's no coincidence this is a year from the last one - this is peak time for meningitis: as with so many less serious illnesses, we are more vulnerable to it as the weather turns, so this is the time they, and I, are asking everyone just to watch, and keep watching.

I did once diagnose someone with meningitis.  I thought that's what it was, and I couldn't have been more terrified when I found out I was right.  It wasn't a child though.  It was the boy I fancied, and I was in my second week at university....  He's fine now, by the way.  I never got anywhere with him, but I'll never forget him either.

I thought, therefore, that I knew about meningitis, especially after the forum last year, but I didn't know the answers to these questions, posed last year, and now kindly answered by Dr Nellie Ninis who is a consultant paediatrician at St Mary’s Hospital, London (widely considered to be a centre of excellence for meningitis care):

Q.           What about the "stiff neck" symptom? Is that important? Mind you, whenever I've had a sick child and I've asked "does your neck hurt?" the answer is usually yes.

A.         A stiff neck will only occur in meningitis and not in septicaemia (Remember not to confuse the two. Septicaemia gives you the big purple rash and kills FAST) neck stiffness is really only seen in much older children, probably 8 years upwards and it tends to occur late. The other signs of meningitis are much more important, namely, bad headache, lots of vomiting, drowsy, not looking or communicating properly and excessive sleepiness. The younger the child the more non specific it is, which makes diagnosis a bit of a subtle clue finding mission for doctors. Most painful necks in paediatrics are caused by tonsillitis so my advice is look for the other signs.

Q.           What should you DO, while you're waiting for help to arrive? Give maximum dose of calpol and ibuprofen? Sponge down with tepid water?
A.        What should parents do while waiting? Calpol, Ibuprofen and tepid sponging are all fine but my biggest advice is don’t wait too long – just take your child straight to hospital if you are properly worried. If you are not too sure then take those measures and see if they start to look better and if in doubt consult a health professional.

I can't thank Dr Ninis enough for her very speedy (given it took me a year to ask the questions, she answered them in less than a day) response.  She's also said she's ready to answer any other questions, however silly they may seem, so please do ask in the comments below.


  1. Great questions there...

    Luckily, I now live absolutely literally across the road from a hospital with an A&E department. Hope I never have to use it - but nice to have it on the doorstep.

  2. Never using it sounds good to me...


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