The rise in meningitis cases: 5 questions for the GP

meningitis cases On Tuesday, November 14, the Pasteur Institute warned of an increase in cases of meningococcal meningitis in France. “Unprecedented recovery” after the end of health measures introduced during the Covid-19 epidemic. Between January and September 2023, 421 cases have already been recorded, an increase of 36% compared to 2019, ahead of the winter peak. The mortality rate for this type of meningitis is 10% and it can also leave patients with sequelae. Should we succumb to psychosis? How to distinguish it from classic meningitis? We put our questions to general practitioner Brigitte Tregouet.

SHE. What is meningitis and what are its symptoms?

Brigitte Tregouet. Meningitis is an infection of the cerebrospinal fluid (fluids present in the brain and spinal cord, editor’s note) by various infectious agents that can range from viruses to bacteria. Regarding the symptoms, let’s put fulminant meningitis on one side and standard meningitis on the other. As for classic meningitis, there is vomiting, headache and a stiff neck. In severe meningitis, these symptoms do not appear. Instead we see purpura fulminans, bleeding under the skin like a bruise that spreads very quickly. Professionals usually trace the outline of the bruise with a pencil to record its growth. A bruise without shock that develops very quickly can be an absolute emergency.

SHE. Blitzkrieg sparks meningitis psychosis…

BT It’s important to remember that there are different types of meningitis and that not all are equally serious. Some are extremely serious, called fulminant meningitis, and can kill the patient within hours. It is this that gives the disease its rightful and terrible reputation. Others are much rarer, such as slowly progressive meningitis (especially tuberculosis). Furthermore, it is bacterial meningitis, for which the patient has time to be treated, or even viral meningitis, which heals itself. The fear associated with this disease is due to meningococcal meningitis, the most serious form of which is part of severe meningitis. In this case, doctors administer an immediate antibiotic injection before transfer to the hospital.

SHE. How is it transmitted and at what age is the risk of contamination greatest?

BT meningitis is often communicated in groups. It is sometimes called the “military” disease because it is often passed from young people to young people in communities. It can also affect younger children. Pneumococcal meningitis, less well known than meningococcal meningitis, is mainly caught in groups. Meningococcal meningitis is generally said to have two peaks, around the second year of life and during community life. Although it mainly affects young people, the disease can still be detected at any age.

SHE. How to protect yourself from it this winter?

BT Standard hygiene measures are required: hand washing, room ventilation… Everything we ended up applying during the Covid-19 epidemic. If I had one piece of advice, it would be to show what the purpura looks like so you can identify the meningococcal meningitis emergency.

SHE. What about vaccines?

BT Several bacteria are involved in the meningitis vaccine. In particular, pneumococcus, against which all children are vaccinated in France, which reduces the incidence of this type of meningitis. Other mandatory vaccines are vaccines against meningitis B and C. Very early vaccination against meningococcal meningitis is also for very young children. However, there are a huge number of subtypes of meningococci, and there is still no vaccine that can work against all its forms.

The Rise in Meningitis Cases: 5 Questions for Your GP

With a recent rise in meningitis cases, it’s natural to feel concerned. Here are 5 key questions you can ask your GP to get a clearer picture and ensure you’re informed:

  1. What specific strain of meningitis is causing the rise in cases? Understanding the type of meningitis will help you know the symptoms to watch out for, as some strains have different presentations.

  2. Who is most at risk for this particular strain of meningitis? Knowing the risk factors can help you assess your own risk and that of your loved ones.

  3. Are there any preventative measures I can take to reduce my risk? This could involve inquiring about vaccinations available or other preventive steps specific to the strain.

  4. What are the early warning signs of meningitis to be aware of? Early detection is crucial, so having a clear understanding of the symptoms is important.

  5. Should I be concerned about getting a test for meningitis, and if so, what kind of test would be recommended? Depending on your individual situation and the prevalence in your area, your doctor might advise getting tested.

Additionally, consider asking:

  • Is there any local information or resources available about this specific meningitis strain?
  • Are there any travel advisories related to this rise in cases?

Remember: This information is intended to empower you to have a productive conversation with your doctor. They can provide specific guidance based on your situation and the latest local public health information.

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