Dr. Elizabeth Zammit Lupi emphasized the importance of vaccination, explaining that vaccines against meningitis are available from two-months-of-age and up. This in an interview with Newsbook.com.mt about the illness which has been making regular headlines in the last few weeks.
Dr. Zammit Lupi is a family doctor with a special interest in child health. After working at Karen Grech in the Pediatrics Department, she moved on the the Primary Child Health Department touring schools examining, screening and immunizing children. She now runs her own family and child clinic in Żebbuġ.
What is Meningitis and how does one spot it?
Meningitis, an infection in the meninges, or the lining of the brain and spinal chord, is a rare illness but might have “ugly consequences”, according to Dr. Zammit Lupi. These consequences include brain damage which can cause learning difficulties, hearing difficulties, fits, and even death. That being said, its rarity should allay any alarm.
While it may occur in people of all ages, it is most prevalent in children, particularly infants under two-years-of-age. It is usually caused by germs, and could be in virus which is its most common form. The Doctor said that, “many times, the virus passes on its own and there are no adverse consequences.”
The infection can start from and ear, throat or sinus infection before the germs get into the blood and then end up in the meninges. There are various types of Meningitis such as the Pneumococcus variety most prevalent in children under five; or 68% of cases of meningococcal disease were caused by B serotype in the EU, Dr Zammit Lupi said.
Symptoms include fever, headaches, photo-sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, neck stiffness, and lethargy. Meanwhile, in the case of the Meningococcal variety, there might be septicemia, and a rash which if seen to retain its redness if a transparent glass is pressed over it, is a sign of the illness in its advanced stages and one must get themselves to hospital.
When it comes to infants, they tend to have non-specific symptoms including fever, irritability, lethargy and not wanting their bottle. In these cases, according to the interviewee, parents should take them to a Doctor to check for other symptoms. However, in babies under three months old, even if just a fever, they should be taken straight to hospital for testing to exclude any potential illnesses.
What should people do if they suspect having Meningitis?
The emergency room should be the first choice in the case of infants under three months, if one has the persistent rash, or if the classical symptoms are being exhibited. However, in terms of visiting a Doctor, in the case of them passing it off as gastritis due to the vomitting, but the symptoms persist, then a follow-up visit is necessary for re-examination and move on from there.
In hospital, the procedure is for them to take cerebrospinal fluid to be examined and sent to a laboratory to indicate what type of illness needs to be treated. Bacterial Meningitis however is usually treated by antibiotics and a hospital stay, with the intention of the illness going away with no adverse consequences.
What about protection in general?
Here Dr Zammit Lupi emphasised the importance of vaccination saying that with vaccines, “we can reduce the risk of children catching this serious illness.” She went on to say that “vaccines are safe” pointing out the misconception that if you take a vaccine, then you will get the illness which she specifically said is “not true”.
Although vaccines are not 100% effective all the time, persons taking them are still reducing the risks. A vaccine can sometimes not work in the case of a separate type of the illness than the one vaccinated for, or a failure overall, but this is rare. Apart from that, the side-effects are just the same as any other vaccine with potential slight fever, soreness in the injection site and lethargy.
When it comes to specific Meningitis vaccines, the HIB vaccine is part of the 5-in-1 vaccine given at 6 weeks, three months, four months, and a booster at a year and a half. A high uptake of this vaccine has seen the practical eradication of this type of Meningitis. There are Prevnar or Synflorix vaccines for the Pneumococcus variant, as well as Bexsero and Trumenba vaccines for the Meningococcal variant. The former can be administered to infants over 2 months, while the latter must be taken over 10 years-of-age.
Dr. Zammit Lupi insisted that, “Parents are always instructed to carry the baby books when they go to the doctor so that immunisations and growth records can be viewed and filled in appropriately.” Considering 6 million children die globally of different infectious diseases, “vaccination is an indispensable tool to protect against many of these illnesses.”