What are symptoms of meningitis? What is meningococcal septicaemia? And how does it cause symptoms?
Probably the first illness I could name as a kid was meningitis; it's infamous because it can happen so quickly and is potentially fatal. And more common in children. So let's get to know the enemy. Hello I’m Dr Ed Hope and welcome to Sick Notes, where I try and explain complex medical terms in plain English, this one is all about Meningitis.
Meningitis is an infection of the coverings of the brain that causes rapidily progressing symptoms of headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, neck stiffness, intolerance of lights, and sometimes a blotchy rash. Meningitis is a medical emergency because if not treated quickly can lead to life-changing disability such as brain damage, blindness, loss of limbs, epilepsy, and even death. It is caused by an infection usually viral or bacterial, that occurs within the outer linings of the brain, this is where it gets it’s name, because these linings are called ‘meninges’ and ‘itis’ means inflammation. As the infection spreads within through this outer lining of the brain it causes cell death and therefore causes inflammation. This inflammation causes swellings of the lining of the brain, and because there's nowhere for this swelling to go because it happens within the skull which is a fixed bony object, this squashes the brain and causes the symptoms of headache, nausea & vomiting and drowsiness.
The symptom of neck stiffness is because the meninges not only cover the brain but they also go right the way down the spinal cord so around the spinal cord in your neck and your back. Therefore when this becomes inflamed when you move your neck it irritates the lining therefore causing pain and stiffness. And the symptom of fever is your body's natural response to try and tackle a bacterial infection, bacteria typically prefer lower temperatures, therefore your body increases your body temperature to help make it more difficult for the bacteria grow. Thankfully most cases of meningitis are caused by viruses and so not usually life-threatening although still a medical emergency. The most common cause of bacterial meningitis is the meningococcal bacterial.
This is particularly deadly because at the same time as causing meningitis it usually causes infection of the blood, that we call septicaemia. ‘Septic’ coming from the term of an infective disease and ‘aemia’ meaning something happening in blood. Therefore when this happens we call it ‘Meningococcal Septicaemia’. It is septicaemia that causes this notorious rash, because as the infection takes hold in the blood it can damage some blood vessels, this causes some of the blood to leak out into the tissues and causing this classic non-blanching rash which basically means when you put a glass against the rash, the rash doesn't disappear. This is commonly known as the glass test. The rash in meningoccocal septicaemia normally develops as a very late sign and also don't forget the rash is not going to be present in other types of meningitis, therefore trust your instincts and don't wait for the rash. If you think yourself, your child or someone around you has meningitis then you must get immediate medical help. Doctors suspecting meningitis will not wait for investigation results before beginning treatment of antibiotics, fluids and measures to control the pain and fever.
Blood tests and imagining all have their place, so too does a test called a lumbar puncture, where we take a needle to the back and take a tiny bit of fluid from around the membranes of the spinal cord this we can grow in a lab and look under a microscope to aid diagnosis. If bacterial meningitis is confirmed doctors may want to give antibiotics to people who have been in close contact with the patient. Children and teenagers are most at risk of meningitis because they tend to be in close contact with lots of different people, therefore the best way to protect yourself or your children is get vaccinated.. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t prevent all strains of meningitis, therefore if someone who has been vaccinated gets symptoms they still need medical help.
I’ve put a link in the description below about details on vaccinations. So I hope this has helped your understanding of meningitis and how it causes it's symptoms. I've put some clarifications in the description below and some useful links including the one to the vaccinations. If you liked this, please subscribe to my channel thank you very much for watching.
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