We have all seen those films about outbreaks and crazy viruses that sweep a community.  Scary music, HASMAT teams and beautiful actors working hard to save the world with makeup that somehow stays perfect throughout.  I need some of that.  Why do these films scare us so much?  Because we know this type of uncontrollable horror can happen.  Just as freak lightening struck my grandparents’ house when I was 6 and caused a bad fire, our children can be infected out of the blue by some pretty scary diseases.

Meningitis is a serious bacterial disease, which causes inflammation around the lining of the spinal cord and brain. It can also cause poisoning of the blood and can strike people even into their 20’s.  Before you read about Brodie, you should know that you will get upset.  Should you wish to skip to the end, please first know that there are vaccinations to protect against meningitis.  They are available for your kids in order to prevent four different strains.  Unfortunately, many routine Canadian immunizations only protect against one strain of the disease.

Brodie: A tribute by his Father, Colin Campbell, an instructor in the department of criminology at Douglas College. (Published in the Vancouver Sun, April 29, 2008).

“My son, Brodie, an only child, died suddenly on April 24, 2007, from a rare and particularly vicious strain of bacterial meningitis. Brodie, a big, active, popular and happy-go-lucky kid with a great sense of humour, was 15.

In the words of poet W.H. Auden, Brodie was “my North, my South, my East and West; my working week and my Sunday rest. My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song . . . .”

My wife and I have learned in the months since Brodie died that there are multiple strains of IMD — groups A, B, C, Y and W-135 and that four of these strains are preventable. Indeed, Brodie had been vaccinated for meningitis C but died from the group Y strain that could have been prevented with the appropriate vaccine. There is no vaccine for the B strain and only the four Maritime provinces currently fund vaccinations against the four preventable strains.

My wife and I have also learned that IMD spreads through close contact, much like a cold or flu. Coughing or sneezing, sharing eating utensils or sport water bottles, kissing and close physical contact can spread the germs from person to person. Symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, vomiting and confusion. The symptoms, however, often fail to reveal the seriousness of IMD until it is too late.”

Tears?  Me too.  I can’t imagine a greater tragedy than the preventable loss of a child.  Between 2005 and 2010, an average of 197 cases of IMD was reported annually in Canada and 6.7% of those affected died (typically within 48 hours).  Funny, they don’t make movies with ending that tragic.  Of those who survive, up to 1 in 5 may suffer from permanent and disabling effects.  But it could never happen to us, right?  We’re healthy and sprinkle chia seeds on our cereal.  Wrong.  One in five healthy teenagers and adults carry the meningococcal germ in our nose and throat but do not get sick ourselves.  We can, however, make children sick when we sneeze or cough.

When the disease is properly diagnosed by a physician through testing of the spinal fluid, it can be treated.  The bacteria usually disappear from the nose and throat within 24 hours after appropriate antimicrobial treatment has begun.  Finally – some good news!!

Prevention of Meningitis

Rigorously tested, safe vaccines are the best prevention method of this disease; especially because people can unknowingly be carriers and easily pass on the disease to unimmunized people.  Vaccines such as Menactra are available that protect children against four strains (A,C,Y, W-135). There is currently no vaccine to protect against meningitis B.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms differ in infants/toddlers and children/adults and not all people will experience similar symptoms and the same progression of symptoms.  Medical help should be sought immediately following any of all symptoms.

Symptoms in Babies and Toddlers include:

  • Fever combined with cold hands and feet
  • Refusing food when normally hungry
  • Vomiting
  • Fretful, does not want to be picked up or held
  • Pale, blotchy skin
  • Blank, staring expression
  • Drowsy, difficult to wake
  • Stiff neck and arched back
  • High pitched cry

Symptoms in Children and Adults include:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever with cold hands and feet
  • Headache, especially combined with stiff neck
  • Joint stiffness and muscle pain
  • Dislike bright lights, noise
  • Drowsy, difficult to wake
  • Confusion or delirium

I must apologize, as we don’t usually scare parents or make anyone sad.  But this is pretty important, and I didn’t even realize that only 1 out of 4 preventable strains of meningitis was included in my provincial vaccination until I was sent a press release.  Did you?

This is a sponsored post by Sanofi Pasteur.  For additional information and research you may go to the Public Health Agency of Canada.