The head of a national meningitis charity says it is important that people realise that anyone of any age can get the condition.
Siobhan Carroll, the chief executive of the meningitis awareness and support charity ACT for Meningitis, which is based in Galway, was speaking to mark World Meningitis Day which took place on Sunday.
She urged people to learn about the symptoms of this illness and warned that it can kill within 24 hours.
“It is therefore vital to know the signs and symptoms of this devastating disease,” said Ms Carroll who lives in Oranmore. She founded the charity with her husband Noel after they lost their four-year-old daughter Aoibhe to the infection in 2008.
She explained that meningitis is an inflammation of the lining around the spinal cord and the brain, caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
“It is easily misdiagnosed as the symptoms can be flu-like, appear in any order and some may not appear at all, therefore we urge people to trust their instincts. Meningitis does not always produce a rash, if it does appear it will not fade under pressure.
“While children aged under five are most at-risk and 16-24 year olds are the second highest at risk age group, it is vitally important to know that anyone of any age can get meningitis. We are asking people to ACT now as knowing the signs and symptoms of meningitis is your best form of defence against this disease.”
The signs of meningitis can include vomiting, fever, headache, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, severe muscle pain, and confusion. In babies, the symptoms may be being irritable, refusing to feed, high pitched crying, rapid breathing, cold hands and feet, and a bulging soft spot on the head.
There is a higher risk of meningitis during the winter months, according to Ms Carroll. “As people spend a lot of time indoors and with close contact, germs are spread more easily. Also, coming down with a cold or the ‘flu may weaken the immune system making you more susceptible to disease.”
She outlined that the biggest barrier the charity has faced is overcoming the myths and misinformation about the condition. There is a lot of confusion among parents about both the symptoms and the vaccinations for the disease.
“Myths and misinformation about meningitis is a major issue,” said the CEO of the national charity. “This includes confusion about the signs and symptoms of the disease with some parents believing that you must wait for a rash before being concerned about a meningitis diagnosis.”
Meningitis is a potentially life threatening infection. It, and its associated disease, septicaemia (blood poisoning ) can kill within hours and can affect anyone at any time.
One in 10 people who contract meningitis will die. Survivors can be left with various after-effects including brain damage, blindness, deafness, limb loss (where septicaemia has occurred ) learning difficulties, and behavioural issues.
For further information on meningitis or if you have been affected by the disease log on to www.actformeningitis.ie or telephone (091 ) 380058.