World Meningitis Day 2020: Raising awareness about a disease that affects 5 million people every year
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that along with sepsis, meningitis kills more children under the age of 5 years than malaria.
On April 24 every year, World Meningitis day is observed. Organised by the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO), the day is dedicated to raising awareness about meningitis - a potentially deadly disease that in some cases can kill in a matter of hours or leave the person physically or mentally disabled for life.
The Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) was established in 2004. Since its establishment, CoMO is working on raising awareness as well as bringing healthcare practitioners, meningitis organisations and survivors together from more than 35 countries. Additionally, the organisation advocates for meningitis vaccination worldwide.
Yes, COVID-19 has taken more than 190,000 lives already - but amidst the pandemic, we can’t ignore other potentially fatal diseases, especially one as quick as meningitis.
The theme of this year’s World Meningitis Day is “Defeat meningitis”. The toolkit for the day on CoMO’s website explains that every year 5 million people are affected by meningitis. In 2017 alone, 300,000 people died of the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA, meningitis is a swelling of the outer covering of the brain and spinal cord. It may occur when a microbe (bacteria/virus/fungi/parasites) somehow enter the fluid present in the brain and can usually spread from one person to another through various routes (depending on the microbe). Meningitis can also occur due to cancer, an injury to the brain or due to some types of drugs.
It is important to note that not all types of meningitis are equally lethal. Bacterial meningitis is the most life-threatening and can cause death and disability. On the other hand, viral meningitis is more common but less severe. Fungal and parasitic meningitis is less common. The former mostly affects immunocompromised people and those with chronic conditions.
However, until you don’t know the cause of the disease, it is best to deal with it as an emergency.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that along with sepsis, meningitis kills more children under the age of 5 years than malaria. As per the CDC, bacterial meningitis alone affects over 1.2 million people every year.
How does it spread
Both viral and bacterial meningitis spread through coming in direct contact with the infected person or through coughing and sneezing.
Fungal meningitis can happen if the person inhales the spores of certain fungi from the air and they find a way to reach the brain. Fungal spores are microscopic and are not seen with the naked eye. Fungi that cause meningitis can be found in soil, bird and bat droppings and in decaying wood and leaves. Candida is a yeast that lives in the body normally - if it enters the bloodstream somehow and reaches the brain, it can also cause meningitis.
Parasitic meningitis spreads through parasites that mostly affects animals but can get transmitted to humans if they consume infected animals or foods that are contaminated with the parasite.
Some types of viral and bacterial meningitis have vaccines, however, not all types of meningitis are preventable by vaccination. So, it is important to recognise the early warning signs of the disease and seek out medical support. A doctor will identify the causative organism and treat the disease accordingly. Common signs of meningitis include:
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity of eyes to light
Other symptoms include:
- Rapid breathing
- Pain in muscles or joints
Infants with meningitis may likely present with fever, irritability, loud crying, dislike for touch, loss of appetite, blank stares, and neck retraction. They will also be difficult to wake.
Prevention and treatment
The best way to be safe from some forms of meningitis is to get vaccinated. Where vaccination is not available, the following prevention measures can be taken:
- Always wash your hands properly - for 20 seconds with soap and water, especially when you have worked with a potential source of infection.
- Avoid coming in contact with infected people.
- If you are sick, stay indoors to keep the disease from spreading.
- Always clean and disinfect all the frequently touched surfaces in your house.
Meningitis treatment depends on the causative organism. Antibiotics are given in case of bacterial meningitis and antifungal and antiviral medications are given in case of fungal and viral meningitis.
In the case of parasitic meningitis, medications are only given to deal with the symptoms. There is no specific treatment for this kind of meningitis.
For more information, read our article on Meningitis.
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