With the recent increase in the death rate from its outbreak in Nigeria and Niger republic, meningitis is fast becoming a global health threat, as it can be fatal even to healthy young adults. TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on the growing scourge
The latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that meningitis outbreak that was reported in Niger republic between January 4 to March 13 left not less than 61 people dead, out of a total of 730 detected cases across the entire national territory.
Health experts assert that meningitis is a serious disease in which there is inflammation of the meninges, caused by viral or bacterial infection, and marked by intense headache, fever, sensitivity to light and muscular rigidity.
Acknowledging that some bacteria can cause meningitis, if left untreated, they said meningitis can lead to an overall infection of other body organs and systems. The bacteria behave differently in different people, and while most people recover fully from bacterial meningitis with treatment, as many as one in five may suffer from permanent disability.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) have warned against the threat posed by the diseases.
They also called on vaccine manufacturers to step up meningitis C-vaccine production by five million doses before the start of this year’s meningitis season later in the month.
According to Coordinator for Control of Epidemic Diseases Unit at WHO Dr William Perea, “Meningitis tends to hit Africa in cycles. Cases of meningitis C have been rising since 2013, first in Nigeria in 2013 and 2014, and then in Niger last year. We have to be ready for a much larger number of cases during the 2016 meningitis season.”
Health Specialist, Programme Division, UNICEF Dr Imran Mirza, said: “We have had preliminary discussions with vaccine manufacturers and impressed upon them the need to produce a stockpile of five million doses of vaccine to be ready for flare-ups of the disease next year in Africa, but so far, they haven’t yet revised their production plans to meet demand.”
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord.
The swelling associated with meningitis often triggers the “hallmark” signs and symptoms of this condition, including headache, fever and a stiff neck. If you suspect that you or someone in your family has meningitis, seek medical care right away. Early treatment of bacterial meningitis can prevent serious complications.
The signs and symptoms that may occur in anyone older than age of 2 include:
- Sudden high fever
- Severe headache that isn’t easily confused with other types of headache
- Stiff neck
- Vomiting or nausea with headache
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating Seizures
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
- Sensitivity to light
- Lack of interest in drinking and eating
- Skin rash in some cases, such as in meningococcal meningitis
Meningitis usually results from a viral infection, but the cause may also be a bacterial infection. Less commonly, a fungal infection may cause meningitis. Because bacterial infections are the most serious and can be life-threatening, identifying the source of the infection is an important part of developing a treatment plan.
The complications of meningitis can be severe. The longer you or your child has the disease without treatment, the greater the risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage, including:
Treatments and drugs
The treatment depends on the type of meningitis you or your child has.
Acute bacterial meningitis requires prompt treatment with intravenous antibiotics and, more recently, cortisone medications, to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications, such as brain swelling and
seizures. The antibiotic or combination of antibiotics that your doctor may choose depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Your doctor may recommend a broad-spectrum antibiotic until he or
she can determine the exact cause of the meningitis. Infected sinuses or mastoids — the bones behind the outer ear that connect to the middle ear — may need to be drained.
Antibiotics can’t cure viral meningitis, and most cases improve on their own in several weeks. Treatment of mild cases of viral meningitis usually includes:
Plenty of fluids
Over-the-counter pain medications to help reduce fever and relieve body aches.
If the cause of your meningitis is a herpes virus, an antiviral medication is available.
These steps can help prevent meningitis:
- Wash your hands. Careful hand-washing is important to avoiding exposure to infectious agents. Teach your children to wash their hands often, especially before they eat and after using the toilet, spending time in a crowded public place or petting animals. Show them how to wash their hands vigorously, covering both the front and back of each hand with soap and rinsing thoroughly under running water.
- Reduce your risk of listeriosis if you’re pregnant by cooking meat, including hot dogs and deli meat, to 165 F (74 C), and avoiding soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Don’t eat these types of cheeses unless they are clearly labelled that they were made with pasteurized milk.
- Stay healthy. Maintain your immune system by getting enough rest, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
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