This Monday marks the start of Meningitis Awareness Week, and no doubt you'll be hearing plenty about the virus as the kids go back to school and everybody starts getting ready for the winter cold season to kick in. According to the UK's Meningitis Trust over 5.3 million adults can't name a single sign or symptom of meningitis, so in the spirit of awareness it's time to take a look at how much we really know about it - and how much of the information out there is just myth and rumour!
What is meningitis?
Simply put, meningitis is an inflammation around the spinal cord and the brain. It can be spread in a number of ways and is very serious, particularly in young children. Most people recover, but some are left with permanent after-effects, so it's important to catch it quickly.
There are a number of rumours about meningitis, and these can spread more dangerously than the condition itself! Take a look at the most common, and arm yourself with the facts to make sure you can protect your family from illness:
Myth: Meningitis always comes with a sore neck Truth: A sore neck and headaches are common among meningitis sufferers, occurring in roughly 90 per cent of cases, but there are also a number of other symptoms. High fever and altered mental state are considered the next most common symptoms, and you should look out for an aversion to light and sound, similar to a tension migraine.
Myth: You can only get meningitis by kissing somebody who has it Truth: Meningitis can be caught virally, but is can also be picked up through bacteria or, very occasionally, a fungus. You can catch it from other people in the form of a virus in the same way that any other viruses are passed on; via kissing, drinking from the same cup or glass, or sharing items like cigarettes or lip balm.
Myth: Only students can get meningitis Truth: While students are certainly more vulnerable to it thanks to the close contact of shared living and learning spaces, anybody can contract meningitis. The most vulnerable group is actually children under five, followed by teenagers and young adults.
Myth: Meningitis clears up on its own Truth: Meningitis is potentially fatal, especially if it has been contracted via bacteria. It should be treated immediately by a doctor, as the inflammation can lead to decreased blood flow, stroke and permanent brain injury. It's almost impossible to tell the difference between viral and bacterial meningitis, so you should always visit a doctor if you suspect it!
Myth: One vaccination will protect you from meningitis for life Truth: There are a number of vaccines available which protect against different types of meningitis, four of which are part of childhood immunisation. However, you'll also likely need further vaccinations if you're due to travel abroad, particularly to certain parts of Africa, and people over the age of 65 are offered regular vaccines to protect against a number of pneumococcal diseases including meningitis.
It's worth highlighting that meningitis is by no means a common condition, but it can be fatal if contracted. If you're concerned that you may not be immunised or you're not sure how to look out for the symptoms, take Meningitis Awareness Week as an opportunity and a reminder to make an appointment with your doctor, to make sure you and your family are fully protected!
Meningitis Awareness Week takes place on the 16th to the 22nd of September 2013. The information here was provided by Health-on-Line and sourced from the NHS and the Meningitis Trust.