Meningitis and septicaemia are more than just a rash charity warns after a YouGov poll finds only 5% of parents can identify all the symptoms, with Mums eight times more likely than Dads to be aware of what to watch out for (8% and 1% respectively).
The YouGov survey, carried out on behalf of Meningitis Research Foundation to mark World Meningitis Day (5th October), found more than three quarters of parents (78%) were aware that meningitis, which is caused by bacteria infecting the lining surrounding the brain and spine, is life threatening and can kill within 24 hours. However, the poll also highlighted a lack of knowledge of some of the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia – blood poisoning caused by large numbers of bacteria in the blood stream - with levels of awareness varying significantly between Mums and Dads.
The YouGov poll surveyed more than 1,300 UK-based parents who have children up to the age of 25, to mark World Meningitis Day (5th October 2022) – the global day to raise awareness of the impact of the disease and the investment and political support needed to defeat it. It found twice as many Mums (69%) as Dads (33%) were able to recognise at least half of the symptoms of the diseases. Only 15% of Dads said they did not know any symptoms, but this figure was more than three times higher than Mums, with just 4% of respondents unable to identify any signs.
Key findings included a high level of awareness among parents for signs such as a rash (75%), which was the most recognised symptom, followed by a dislike of bright lights (61%), stiff neck (59%) and severe headache (56%). However, symptoms more typically associated with septicaemia had the lowest levels of awareness, with cold hands and feet / shivering recognised by less than a third (30%) of parents, followed by breathing fast / breathlessness (33%) and pale and mottled skin (43%).
Meningitis and septicaemia are closely connected diseases that can be caused by the same bacteria. Symptoms are hard to distinguish from other mild illnesses such as flu, particularly in the early stages of illness (which makes them difficult to detect). Both can result in life-changing disability, and in the very worst cases, death. Anyone can be affected, but those at greatest risk are children under five, followed by teens and young adults.
Supporting the call for greater awareness of symptoms is James Vincent, 41, from Barrowash. He said he had little knowledge of the infection until his son George contracted bacterial meningitis, aged 3, after suffering with symptoms including a fever, loss of appetite and lethargy in December 2021. It’s been a long road to recovery for George, who three weeks after leaving hospital, had a seizure as a result of meningitis, caused him to lose his hearing. In April 2022, he had cochlear implants and is now making good progress learning to walk and talk again.
James, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in August carrying the weight equivalent to his son on his back to raise vital funds and awareness for the cause, said:
“I knew nothing about meningitis. I knew something about a rash and a glass but George didn’t have those symptoms and there are so many more, but often people aren’t aware of them. That needs to change. Meningitis is a devastating disease and as a father, I’ve felt quite redundant because there was nothing I could do to help. Climbing Kilimanjaro was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I promised George I would do it for him, and all the other little warriors out there. I wanted to raise awareness because it might help somebody else and I don’t want any other family to have to go through what we have been through.”
Claire Wright, Head of Evidence and Policy at Meningitis Research Foundation, warned vigilance remains key:
“Meningitis remains an illness many people fear yet queries into our Support Services tell us James’s experience is all too common, with many parents unaware of all the symptoms to watch out for.
We know it becomes more confusing when you talk of meningitis and septicaemia together, so the easiest way to think of septicaemia is blood poisoning caused by the same bacteria as meningitis. Every day we support people who are coping with the life-changing impact of meningitis and septicaemia, from deafness, to limb loss, to epilepsy or long-term memory issues. Yet the bacteria that trigger these illnesses can be defeated in our lifetime through better vaccine development, availability and uptake, improved diagnostic tests and through knowing when to get medical help. But, it’s also important to remember meningitis and septicaemia are more than just a rash – which doesn’t always appear. This poll tells us that not enough parents are aware of some of the other signs to look out for. We want to change that, so more lives can be saved, whilst also reminding parents to always trust their instincts and get medical help fast if they have any concerns.”
To mark World Meningitis Day, people will be coming together from around the globe to raise awareness of the disease, its impact and show their support for the World Health Organisation’s Global Road Map to Defeat Meningitis by 2030, which could save more than 200,000 lives every year and significantly reduce disabilities caused by meningitis.
For information about how to get involved in World Meningitis Day and join the global effort to defeat meningitis, visit: worldmeningitisday.org.