|When a cold is more than just a cold|
Guardian Lifestyles Reporter
Published: Jul 17, 2012
It was a frightening moment two years ago when Wenderiah Deleveaux received a frantic call from her mother Doreen Deleveaux, telling her that her two-week old daughter, Zaria Gaitor, had a fever and was stiffening. Gaitor rushed home to her daughter and the then 26-year-old mother realized quickly that what was going on was not just a minor cold that could be treated with an over-the-counter remedy.
“I remember that Zaria was crying and just so hot. I didn’t know what to do,” said Deleveaux. “Nothing I was doing was helping, and she only seemed to be getting hotter.” The mother took her daughter to the hospital where tests concluded that little Zaria had contracted meningitis.
According to Dr. Magnus Ekedede, chief neurosurgeon at the Princess Margaret Hospital, meningitis is caused when the meninges, the protective membrane covering the brain and spinal column is inflamed and infected. It is also commonly called meningoencephalitis and is considered especially life threatening because of its proximity to the brain, the potential for the infection to spread and eventually affect other functions in the body. If not treated adequately it can result in chronic problems specific to the area of the brain infected, particularly for young children who are still developing.
Fortunately for Zaria, her form of meningitis was bacterial and she was successfully treated with an antibiotic. Now at two years old she is still doing well and there are no signs that she was ever deathly ill.
For some recovery is not so simple
But for some people recovering from meningitis it is not so simple. For Darrian Ferguson, contracting a viral version of this illness [pneumococcus] at age seven months resulted in permanent brain damage and partial loss of sight. At the time, the now 17-year-old’s case was particularly debilitating due to his meningitis being caused by a virus and his low immunity due to having sickle cell anemia. He even suffered paralysis for two years.
“Darrian has really been through a lot due to having meningitis as a baby,” said his mother Derry Ferguson. “[Darrian] still can’t really speak and has not developed mentally as he should have. He was lucky in being able to see and move independently after recovering as many people affected by meningitis as badly as he was aren’t so lucky, but he is still not a normal child and has not been able to do what children do.”
It’s a disease the mother said people should take seriously. She said if you notice your child acting abnormally in any way, that you take them to see a doctor.
According to Dr. Ekedede, it is vital for people to be wary of meningitis, a condition medical professionals are now calling meningoencephalitis due to it being more than just an inflammation of the meninges but usually also an infection in the brain itself. It’s a condition which he said is commonly caused by viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms.
“It is important to understand that [meningoencephalitis] is serious. Many people still call it meningitis which only says the membrane surrounding the brain is inflamed, but it is much more serious than that. It is an actual infection of the brain as well since it is impossible to have inflammation and infection of the meninges without there also being inflammation and infection of the brain. This is why it is so important to seek help immediately when you or anyone else is showing signs of something seriously being wrong.”
The triad of symptoms indicating someone may be suffering from meningitis are fever, headache and neck stiffness. Other symptoms like vomiting, blurry vision, phonophobia, photophobia and lack of appetite may also accompany it depending on the area of the brain infected or the severity of the inflammation.
If treatment is sought too late or not at all, the afflicted can suffer more serious symptoms like paralysis, loss of sight, hearing and permanent brain damage. They may eventually fall into a coma and even die.
Who is susceptible
“People most susceptible to getting meningoencephalitis are those with low immunity like children, the elderly, people with chronic immune-compromising illnesses like HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), as well as those who suffer a head trauma that cracks and exposes the skull. When it comes to treatment, if it is bacterial there are antibiotics that can work to combat it, but if it is viral in nature we can only treat the symptoms while the body fights it off much like a common influenza virus,” said the doctor.
While he said there is no real way to guarantee not getting meningitis, he said there are definitely ways to avoid it through everyday behaviors. He said children and the elderly need to be given the annual flu shot which can help them not to get a flu that may escalate into the condition. People who are involved in activities that can damage the skull he said should also use precaution prior to participation in the activity, and see a physician whenever they suffer an injury.
Dr. Ededede said it is important for sinusitis sufferers to seek medical treatment so that it doesn’t linger for longer than it needs to because the sinuses are close to the brain and there is only a thin barrier separating the infected sinus from the brain cavity. He said due to constant irritation and infection, that it is possible fluid from the sinus area can leak into the brain and there is a chance of it leading to meningoencephalitis if untreated.