Dept urges public not to panic over meningitis cases

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pretoria - The Department of Health has urged the public not to panic over the reported cases of meningitis, especially in Gauteng.

The department said on Thursday the sporadic emergence of meningitis was an annual occurrence and that there had been a steady decline of cases reported over the past few years.

It further assured the public that it had systems and structures in place which assisted in the tracing of contacts and ensuring that such contacts get appropriate treatment.

The department confirmed the two cases of meningitis in KwaZulu-Natal and four cases in Gauteng. However, contrary to media reports, there have been no confirmed reports in the Western Cape.

In a statement, the department said it would inform members of the public of any new case or cases anywhere in the country to enable members of the public to assist in containing any further spread of diseases.

Members of the public should, however, be on the lookout for symptoms as severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, aversion to light, neck stiffness, confusion and bruise-like rashes on the skin.

For children younger than two, the symptoms could include fever, irritability, lethargy ( child being drowsy and unwell), refusal of food, convulsion and bulging fontanels

Meningitis is an inflammation of the thin membrane that surrounds and protects the brain and the spinal cord. Types of meningitis include bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis and fungal meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria of which there are many types like meningococcal meningitis, TB, haemophilus influenza and streptococcal pneumonia.

Bacterial meningitis is the most fatal of all meningitis and can spread easily, of the bacterial meningitis, meningococcal meningitis is the most serious and the one that causes outbreaks.

The bacteria are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory secretion and saliva. That means they would have to sneeze, laugh or cough in a manner that releases droplets from them to another person.

The viral meningitis is caused by viruses like HIV, mumps, herpes and chicken pox varicella. This type of meningitis is less fatal. Not all viral meningitis conditions are treatable, like HIV and chicken pox.

Fungal meningitis is caused by fungus like cryptococus, fungal meningitis is treatable and all bacterial meningitis is treatable when early treatment is sought.

Treatments are available for bacterial meningitis, howeverm there is only supportive treatment for viral meningitis. These patients mostly recover within days without any form of specific treatment, the department explained.

People can prevent the spread of meningitis by avoiding contact with an infected person, his/her used cutleries and utensils, avoiding overcrowding, basic hygienic practices like washing hands before eating and practicing of cough etiquette, covering of mouth whilst coughing.

Anybody is at risk of getting infection but particularly those that come in close contact with an infected person.

More at risk are children under five years, immuno-compromised persons, those that live in overcrowded circumstances and in rooms where there is cigarette smoking. In addition, a dry and windy weather will exacerbate the situation.

The department also reassured that country's public health system was capable to deal with any cases of meningitis brought to clinical staff for treatment.