The word ‘meningitis’ strikes fear into the hearts of parents. The disease occurs when there is an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can affect anyone and can kill within hours. Children under five account for half of all meningitis deaths.
Bacterial meningitis is particularly dangerous. Meningitis-causing bacteria can double in number every 20 to 30 minutes. If they enter the bloodstream, they can cross the blood brain barrier and cause swelling of the membranes around the brain and the spinal cord.
The long-term impact of meningitis
- One in five meningitis survivors have their lives changed forever – from brain injury to hearing loss, depression, sight loss, anxiety, limb loss, epilepsy and more.
- Meningitis and neonatal sepsis combined are a leading cause of severe intellectual disability globally.
- Meningitis is a leading cause of acquired deafness in infancy and childhood.
- 1 in 100 survivors live with the life-changing impact of losing some or all of their sight because of meningitis.
- Meningitis has the most impact on women (as they are more likely to take on caring roles for children with disabilities) and disproportionately affects the poorest communities of the world.
A global race is under way to defeat meningitis by the end of the decade. The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a roadmap designed to end bacterial meningitis epidemics, reduce by 70% the number of vaccine-preventable deaths from bacterial meningitis, and reduce meningitis-related disability while improving the lives of those affected by the disease.
There is no single meningitis vaccine that protects against all forms of the disease. This is because there are several viruses and bacteria that can cause meningitis.
For example, vaccines are available against meningococcal, pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB) bacterial infections. Bacterial meningitis kills one in 10 people who contract it, and leads to lifelong disability in one in five people who survive it.
There is also a vaccine against the mumps virus (which can, in rare cases, lead to meningitis). The mumps virus is part of the infant immunisation schedule, as part of the measles-containing vaccine.
To catalyse progress towards the goal of defeating meningitis, advocates of prevention are uniting on World Meningitis Day (5 October). Campaigners are putting the spotlight on the WHO’s Global Roadmap to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment, disease monitoring, health advocacy, and support and aftercare.
‘Each year, World Meningitis Day brings together people from all over the world to highlight the need to raise awareness of meningitis, its signs and symptoms, the vaccines that are available, and that it needs global attention and effort to be defeated,’ said Sam Nye, Head of the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO).
‘Started by CoMO members in 2009, this year we are calling for everyone to stand ‘United in the race to defeat meningitis’, sharing life-saving information and taking part in ‘light the road ahead’, with everything you need to do this at worldmeningitisday.org.’
‘With a WHO-led Roadmap in place, we hope World Meningitis Day can continue to demonstrate how much defeating meningitis matters to communities all over the world, and that this can happen in all our lifetimes with the right financial and political support in place,’ Nye said.
Every 30 minutes, 13 people lose their lives to meningitis – an infectious disease that can be largely prevented by vaccination.