Stop meningitis from creeping up on your child
Posted Saturday, August 18 2012 at 01:00
- A little care and a lot of attention can help parents catch one of nature’s most lethal infections in good time.
Fiona Wanjiku remembers the night she lost her daughter with a chill.
“She was only two years old,” she says with a trembling voice.
In the days before that Sunday night, Phoebe Muthoni, her daughter, had suddenly become a fussy eater and seemed too exhausted for a child her age.
“That Sunday, she woke up at around 11pm with a severe fever and headache. She complained that the bedroom lights were too bright and were hurting her eyes.”
Her mother believed this to be the cause of her headache. “I gave her some painkillers, but when I touched her forehead and temples, they were unusually hot. Her temperature was too high.”
Alarmed, Fiona rushed her to the estate dispensary where some injections were administered to ease the pain and fever.
“The nurse said it was nothing serious and that she would soon recuperate.”
Back home, though, Phoebe’s condition only got worse. Her neck became stiff, and by 4am, a red rash had developed on her abdomen and seemed to be spreading.
“This was not just flu; she hardly slept, vomited a lot and shivered intensely. We had to rush her to the hospital.”
Unfortunately, her daughter never made it out of the doctor’s room, succumbing to bacterial meningitis (BM), one of the most lethal diseases to strike children.
Wanjiru Mbuthia, a clinical psychologist at Karen Hospital, tells us that meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
“Most cases are caused by bacteria or viruses, but some can be due to certain medications or illnesses,” she says.
While bacterial meningitis is rare, it is usually serious and can result in death within just a few hours.
“Phoebe was struck by this form of meningitis, which may have been caused by a bacterial infection.”
Dr Mbuthia cautions that if not treated properly and promptly, this form of meningitis can also cause permanent brain damage or neurological problems.
Nonetheless, viral meningitis (also called aseptic meningitis) is the most common. Alarmingly, it often remains undiagnosed because its symptoms are usually similar to those of the common flu.
Causes and symptoms
According to Dr Mbuthia, many of the bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis are fairly common and associated with other routine illnesses.