The concerned parent told our team;
“What I am most surprised about is how you can develop meningitis from everyday bacteria and viruses, like a general cold, sickness bug, pneumonia or even the cold sore virus. I hadn’t thought about this before – I thought it was caused by one or two bugs called ‘meningitis’.
My child’s school had recently had had a round of all the usual winter bugs, but I wasn’t yet aware that one of these common illnesses could be the eventual cause of meningitis."
"If there is one thing I would really like to reiterate to other parents after this experience, it’s the importance of keeping sick children at home so that illnesses don’t have the opportunity to spread’."
The child in question had the great good fortune of having parents who were aware of the symptoms of meningitis, and were able to act quickly as a result.
“I knew the symptoms, thankfully, from my university days. We were all given the Meningitis C vaccine and had symptom awareness drilled in to us as back them there was a spate of young students dying from the disease.”
The family would like to highlight the importance of a rapid response to the signs of meningitis, saying that their daughter had been otherwise well right up until the appearance of symptoms. They added,
“She was fine all week, her usual cheerful and energetic self. On the night she became ill, we put her to bed at her usual bedtime, but a few hours later she woke up with a headache. She then vomited and her fever spiked at 39.9c. My instincts told me that this was something out of the ordinary and we took her straight to A&E. Unfortunately, the first doctor we saw simply diagnosed a ‘virus’ and we were sent home.
"Within an hour of arriving home, our little one had become increasingly unwell. As soon as she started to become light sensitive, I knew that meningitis was a possibility. We rushed her back to hospital where, this time, the doctors recognised what was happening. As we didn’t know which type of meningitis she was suffering from [meningitis can be bacterial or viral] she was given both antibiotics and anti -viral drugs. Thankfully, the medication kicked in fast, and by the next morning I don’t think she could have told me that something been wrong’."
Dr Sara Khawaja, Specialist Paediatrician at Emirates Hospital in Motor City also cautioned parents that awareness and early diagnosis is of paramount importance when treating children with meningitis:
“Meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the linings of the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Bacterial meningitis is more dangerous than viral meningitis because it may potentially cause permanent brain damage and can even be fatal, so early recognition and medical intervention is vital”.
Dr Sara, who works closely with local schools and nurseries, again underlined the need for prompt attention, going on to say;
“Children with meningitis need immediate hospital admission for tests, intravenous antibiotics, monitoring and supportive care in order to prevent permanent complications. Because meningitis can progress rapidly and become complicated, I urge parents to be alert to the following combination of symptoms, and to take their child to hospital without delay, or call an ambulance if they suspect meningitis”.
Dr Sara was keen to stress that meningitis remains very rare in the UAE and that worldwide, rates of bacterial meningitis have declined due to the uptake of various vaccines. Still, parents should be alert for the warning signs and symptoms, which Dr Sara described by saying;
“Meningococcal meningitis, one of the types of bacterial meningitis causes a dark pink or purplish rash that doesn't disappear when pressed with a glass. This is a very important sign to recognise, since it indicates a severe form of the disease. However it is not seen in all cases of meningitis, so parents need to be aware of the other more common features:
The most common early symptoms in children over 2 years are:
In newborns and infants, early signs and symptoms are less specific and include:
Meningitis can progress rapidly and cause seizures, reduced conscious level/drowsiness and confusion and shock (circulatory failure)”.
Siog Moore, owner of Little Land Nursery in Umm Suqeim and a registered nurse, stressed how important it is that every caregiver working with children is aware of how to identify and respond to the warnings signs.
“It’s about more than just parents and teachers” commented Ms Moore; “it’s about every adult who is caring for children being equipped with knowledge and then being confident enough to take action in an emergency.
This is something that I am passionate about. It’s important that TAs, nannies and home helpers are briefed too. If you are trusting someone to care for your child, please take the time to provide them with the information they need”.
Clearly, where meningitis is concerned, forewarned is forearmed.
Last word to Siog Moore, who has been caring for young children in Dubai for more than 25 years.
“I must say that we shouldn’t panic. What is important is good protocols for checking young children and strong channels of communication for communicating with parents.
Treat everything as if it might be serious and hopefully, there will be no disasters. For example, those two little spots you see on a child might be the start of a rash, but equally they might be of no consequence at all. So we observe, report and follow up. Scaremongering helps no one so it is important to report only the facts, not what might have happened”.
If you are concerned about meningitis, please contact your child's paediatrician or dial 999 for emergency assistance.