10 Facts about Meningitis B and the new vaccination

The UK government announced yesterday that all newborn babies are to be offered a vaccination against the Meningitis B virus from September 2015. The meningitis B vaccine will be given to children at the ages of two months, four months and twelve months, will provide protection against 90% of the strains of the virus currently in circulation in the UK population. Meningitis charities in the UK have welcomed the NHS vaccination programme, saying that it would save lives immediately. Most people have heard of Meningitis, but do you know what meningitis is, where it comes from and what the symptoms are?  Here are ten facts about Meningitis, its various strains and what happens if you were to contract meningitis B.

1. What is meningitis?
The word meningitis comes from the Greek, ‘meninx’, meaning membrane, and the medical term, ‘it is’, which means inflammation. Meningitis is an acute inflation of the meninges, which is the membrane that protects the brain and the spinal cord.

2. What causes meningitis?
Meningitis can be caused by bacteria, which is the most aggressive form of the disease and the one that newly announced meningitis vaccine will protect children from, it can also be caused by a virus, which is more common, but less severe, and it can be caused by  fungal infections and parasites.

3. Meningitis is easy to diagnose, but often overlooked
The symptoms of meningitis are well known, and there are tests that can be carried out that will confirm a diagnosis. The problem is, though, that the symptoms can be easily mistaken for those of influenza or other mild viral infections. If a doctor does suspect meningitis, they will often start treatment immediately, without waiting for the test results, because the disease is so fast moving that even a few hours delay could be fatal.

4. What are the symptoms of meningitis?
The symptoms of meningitis can include headaches, high fever, confusion, nausea, stiff neck, an aversion to bright lights and a purple rash on the skin. The rash, which is caused by septicaemia, can be identified by the glass test. If you roll a glass tumbler over a rash and the redness doesn’t disappear, then that is a sign of meningitis. You should not wait for the rash develops, though, before seeking medical help, the other symptoms are enough to call for a doctor.

5. Does meningitis only affect babies?
While meningitis is more common and more dangerous in infants, anyone can contract the disease. Young adults who attend universities are also at greater risk, because they all live together in dormitories. That is why the UK government has also announced a meningitis vaccination programme for 17 and 18 year olds and those attending universities.

6. How many people contract Meningitis B?
The specific strain of Meningitis that the new Meningitis B vaccine addresses is a life threatening bacterial strain that can also leave patients suffering severe disabilities, such as epilepsy, permanent brain damage and loss of limbs. Approximately 1,200 people, mostly infants and young adults, contract Meningitis B in the UK every year and, of those, 1 in 10 die.

7. How is bacterial meningitis treated?
Anyone who has contracted bacterial meningitis will need urgent care in hospital. The infection will be treated with antibiotics to attack the underlying infection, steroids to reduce the swelling around the brain and oxygen and intravenous fluids may also be administered.

8. How is meningitis contracted?
The bacteria are carried in the throats and the mouths of about 1 in 10 people, usually quite harmlessly. The bacteria are spread through droplets passed in the air from sneezing and coughing and through close physical contact with an infected person.

9. How does the new meningitis B vaccine work?
The new meningitis B vaccine, called Bexsero, is made from dead meningitis bacteria and the three of the proteins that are found on the bacteria. This stimulates a response from the immune system that enables the immune system to fight any future infection from the live bacteria.

10. Are there any side effects to the Meningitis B vaccination?
Studies and test have indicated that any side effects from the Bexsero vaccine are mild and short lived. During clinical trials, nearly 8,000 people were given the vaccine and the most common side effects found in infants were a fever and tenderness around the site of the injection.

You may also be interested in: