Support during COVID-19

09 Apr 2020
Support during COVID-19
Meningitis Research Foundation has over 30 years of experience working with people affected by infectious diseases. While the coronavirus (COVID-19) is very different to the viruses and bacteria that can lead to meningitis, some of the worries, concerns and outcomes people are facing are similar.

When there are cases or outbreaks of meningitis, we support people by answering their questions, helping them with health anxiety, and signposting to services when someone is unwell. We support people who have lost a loved one, provide evidence-based information to combat misinformation and help people feel less isolated.

While our resources are written with meningitis in mind, many of them may be helpful for anyone dealing with COVID-19.
Useful blogs we have written:
Advice on what to do if a child is unwell:
If you are worried about COVID-19 symptoms you should visit the NHS pages in the UK for advice on what to do (or WHO has very useful information which is applicable outside of the UK).

However, you may have a child who is sick for other reasons and want to know ether you should visit a doctor or hospital. There have been reports of people with very sick children delaying getting medical help because they are worried about getting COVID-19 or overburdening health workers. It can be dangerous to delay seeking help for those who are seriously ill. It is vitally important to seek medical help for a child who is seriously ill.

Our safety netting resource hub helps you identify when to take urgent action when a child is ill: https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/safety-netting-resources-hub
Coping with bereavement: 
When someone you love dies suddenly, it is devastating. Nothing can prepare you for the emotions that follow and the world can seem a cruel and uncaring place.

Everyone grieves in their own way, but grieving, however we do it, is a necessary process.
 
This page explains some of the things bereaved people may experience and some things that people have found helpful: https://www.meningitis.org/get-support/bereavement

Meningitis and COVID-19 - Your questions

A.

There have been over three million cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) but only a handful of reports of people ill with coronavirus also having meningitis. It is not clear whether coronavirus caused the meningitis or not. Many viruses can cause viral meningitis (even flu occasionally causes viral meningitis) so we are monitoring the situation.

Some viral infections can also predispose people to infection with bacteria, including those that can cause meningitis (such as the pneumococcus). This risk has been shown after flu infection but is very small. So far, there is no suggestion that this occurs commonly after COVID infection, but it is important that all parents / individuals make sure they are up to date for those vaccines that they are eligible for and that they remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of meningitis. 

Although GP surgeries have suspended some appointments to minimise risk from COVID-19 and may also have been affected by staff shortages on account of illness and staff having to self-isolate, it is really important that individuals and parents of young children ensure that they get their immunisations on time. GP surgeries have clear guidance to prioritise routine immunisations, so if an immunisation has been delayed you should request a rescheduled immunisation appointment as soon as possible. If you miss an appointment because you or a member of your household is unwell and self-isolating, you should reschedule the appointment as soon as possible.

A.
There is no evidence that people are more likely to get coronavirus or be seriously ill with it if they have had meningitis. We do know that some infections, including meningitis, knock back a person’s resistance to illnesses for a short time. The fact that we can’t always know who is most at risk of severe disease is one reason why it is important for everyone to follow the guidance on social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
 
Although meningitis does not cause long term immune deficiencies, and most people who get meningitis in the UK have nothing wrong with their immune system, some people do get meningitis due to an existing immune deficiency and may need to follow stricter guidance.
 
The UK government has written to people who are considered to be extremely vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection to advise them to take ‘shielding’ measures to protect themselves from infection. Shielding means staying at home at all times and avoiding all face-to-face contact.
 
People falling into this extremely vulnerable group include:
 
  • Solid organ transplant recipients.
  • People with specific cancers:
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
    • people with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
    • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.
 
The UK government are also advising others who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), but who are not classified as ‘extremely vulnerable’ to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.
 
This group includes those who are:
 
  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
    • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
    • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
    • chronic kidney disease
    • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
    • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
    • diabetes
    • problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
    • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
    • being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
  • those who are pregnant
 
Guidance on reducing physical interaction can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
A.
Emergency Departments and GPs may be busy but the advice doesn’t change for meningitis and septicaemia – if you have symptoms of meningitis or septicaemia/sepsis or are getting rapidly worse, trust your instincts and seek medical help straightaway.
 
There have been reports of people with very sick children delaying getting medical help because they are worried about getting COVID-19 or overburdening health workers. It can be dangerous to delay seeking help for those who are seriously ill. It is vitally important to seek medical help for a child who is seriously ill.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has a useful poster to guide parents on what to do if their child is ill.
 
We may be out of office due to coronavirus, but you can still get in contact with us

The MRF Membership and Support team are here for you for any questions you might have about meningitis and septicaemia and their effects on you or your family and friends.


MRF’s helpline hours are Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm

Tel: UK 080 8800 3344/Ireland 1800 41 33 44
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Media contact
Rob Dawson - Director of Advocacy, Communications and Support
Tel: 0333 405 6262
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