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Meningitis: What all parents should know

  • Photo courtesy of Michelle Elkins.

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Four days before Christmas 2007, 15-year-old Jessica Elkins went to school to take her exams and later joined by her sister and brother for lunch. In the restaurant, however, Jessica felt sick and could not eat more. They went to the car to rest and burst into tears.

“Mom, Jessica is in a lot of pain. I think you need to come home and check on her,” Michelle Elkins, 55, Athens, Alabama. recalls her daughter Emilee to explain.

Because the local clinic was already closed, Michelle and Jessica to the pediatrician. When the pediatrician performed a culture for strep throat, Jessica started vomiting. She was diagnosed with the flu and was sent home with Tamiflu, and told to get plenty of fluids and rest.

Jessica continued to vomit all night until the next day. When Michelle called the pediatrician, he told her to go to the emergency room immediately.

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Once there, Jessica was in and out of consciousness as doctors make a diagnosis: meningococcal meningitis. “They came in and said,” We are dealing with meningitis, and it is the worst case scenario, there is,'” Elkins recalled. “Even when the doctor told us, he had tears in his eyes.”

Doctors, antibiotics administered, and Jessica was airlifted to the children’s hospital.

The next day, Jessica seemed better, but the day after her conditioned worsened. She developed pneumonia, her kidneys failed and she was on a ventilator.

“From that Saturday night, it was like a roller coaster,” Elkins said.

Jessica suffered a series of mini-strokes, and within an hour she was brain-dead.

“I have the bed with her and I held her in my arms…and I gave her over to God,” Elkins said.

What is meningitis?
Bacterial meningitis is spread from person to person by the organisms in the nose or throat. These organisms in the bloodstream and cause swelling of the protective lining of the brain, also known as the meninges and the spinal cord.

There are three types of bacteria responsible for bacterial meningitis: haemophilus influenzae type b (H-flu or Hib), Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) and streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus).

Enteroviruses, such as EV68, can also lead to meningitis.

Last month, a 9-year-old girl from Chicago died from meningitis, and just last week a 5-year-old boy from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, died from the disease.

Anyone can meningitis, but babies, teens and college-age young adults have an increased risk.

However, bacterial meningitis is rare in the U.S., About 4,100 cases and 500 deaths occurred each year between 2003 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In babies and toddlers meningitis because of their immature immune system. The three types of bacteria are encapsulated by polysaccharides or sugar-like coating.

“It is antibodies that are directed in the direction of this polysaccharide that seems to offer protection against infection,” said Dr. Michael Brady, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Disease.

But since their immune systems do not respond well to polysacchriardes and they don’t make antibodies well to 18 and 30 months of age, they have an increased risk.

“In that age group, there seems to be an inability for the immune system to naturally combat certain organisms,” Brady said.

Symptoms of meningitis
Symptoms of meningitis can include high fever, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion, joint pain, a stiff neck and a red or purple skin rash.

In babies, meningitis can start out looking like a cold, but symptoms can worsen and cause irritability, poor feeding, and lethargy. A clear sign that there is a baby in pain is that the rocking does not calm him, Brady said.

As more time passes and meningitis is left undiagnosed, a patient can suffer from seizures. The swelling in the skull can lead to brain damage, and between 10 and 15 percent of people with hearing loss.

Some have seizure disorders or brain injury, and developmental and intellectual problems. They also lose their fingers, toes and limbs due to the damage, which is most common in people with meningococcus.

Between 3 and 10 percent of the children die from meningitis.

“A lot has to do with how quickly they identified and how quickly they get started on the treatment,” Brady said.

Meningitis on college campuses
Since meningitis can spread where groups can gather, or in the immediate residential environment, it is common practice on college campuses.

In 1998, Lynn Bozof, now 66, of Fort Myers, Florida. got a call from her 20-year-old son Evan while he’s at the university. He told his mother that he had migraine headaches, was sensitive to light, nausea, vomiting, and was going to miss his baseball game.

“Evan never missed a baseball game,” Lynn recalled.

He rested for a few hours, but when he felt no better, he went to the first aid. Doctors diagnosed him with a virus and said that they would keep him overnight.

“We went to bed to think of our son will be fine. The next morning we get a phone call from the hospital saying your son has bacterial meningitis, he has a 5 percent chance to survive,” she said.

For 26 days, Evan was treated in three hospitals, and lost kidney and liver functions, all of his limbs amputated and he endured 10 hours of grand mal seizures.

“Eventually, the swelling of the brain herniated his brain stem and we had him disconnected from life support,” said Lynn.

Meningitis is to prevent
“If the people will follow the current CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics immunization schedule, there is a very, very low chance that their child will develop meningitis,” Brady said.

The recommended vaccination schedule for children includes vaccines against Hib, pneumococcal and meningococcal serotypes A, C, W and Y. There are also two meningococcal B vaccine that parents should discuss with their child’s pediatrician.

Parents need to know that if their child has symptoms of meningitis, and has not been vaccinated, they need to go to the er immediately for a spinal tap.

“Bacterial meningitis is very serious [and] a life-threatening,” Brady said. “I think it’s something that if you have a child that is not vaccinated, you should be very concerned about.”

In 2002, Lynn Bozof founded the National Meningitis Foundation to raise awareness about meningitis and educating the parents about how to prevent it.

“I thought it was this rare disease, and it’s going to affect someone else,” said Lynn. “And that is what my son died. The disease can be in your own backyard.”

Julie Relevant, is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the health care. She is also a mother of two. More information about Julie at revelantwriting.com.

 

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