After a peak of 2295 cases of meningitis in 1999 in UK the meningitis type C cases dropped of the 90% in the vaccinated groups, and consequently of the 66% in the non vaccinated ones, thanks to the introduction of the MenC vaccine.
But recently, due to a decrease in the vaccination coverage, the cases of meningitis in UK are rising again with two cofirmed cases of meningitis B at University of Bristol, the past November. Because of this (and in the light of the recent measles epidemic in universities) the debate shifted recently in questioning if non- vaccinated students should be allowed in universities.
So what is meningitis? Why is it sparking a debate?
Meningitis is an illness, and it defines the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect our brain and our spinal cord (called Meninges). It’s usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, and it’s very quick in its development – capable to kill a patient in a span from less than 2 to more than 20 hours.
Generally, it first manifests “slyly” like a bad temperature, with symptoms such as severe fever, headaches, and diarrhoea; maintaining an apparently “stable” condition in the victim.
Symptoms change with the development of the illness, including symptoms such as difficulty in staying awake, irritability, dislike of bright lights, stiff neck, pale/blotchy skin, vomit, severe muscular pain, convulsions and, the most significant, severe fever with cold feet and hands.
Normally, not all symptoms necessarily manifest, or manifest in a specific order; and they tend to escalate in a terrifyingly rapid time. For this reason, many patients die of meningitis worldwide. Diagnosis of this disease is sometimes too late because it’s difficult distinguishing meningitis from a severe flu.
What usually kills a patient affected by meningitis it’s septicaemia, which is the poisoning of blood induced by an infection. It usually leads to organ failures, severe nerve and brain permanent damage.
Meningitis is usually caused by a virus or a bacteria, and there are different types of meningitis, with different symptoms depending on its causes. Viral meningitis is considered less dangerous than bacterial, even though more common. But bacterial meningitis is most commonly caused by the bacterias Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, TB, Group B Streptococcal and Escherichia Coli. Bacterial meningitis is a rarer condition but much more dangerous if not treated.
What sparked the debate about vaccines in universities, is the virality of meningitis, and its most common target age. There is a current debate about whether universities should make vaccines compulsory, and many people disagree with the concept.
The misleading idea that meningitis is an illness which only infects and kills infants or very young children, is a common misconception held by many people today.
Meningitis, in fact, can also occur in adults with immunodeficiency but manifests in young adults between 15 and 23 years old with similar ease to children cases.
It spreads through cough, sneezes, kisses, or through sharing utensils, cutlery or toothbrushes; and more commonly spread by healthy carriers.
Although there are many different, effective vaccines and remedies available to treat meningitis; it is also true that these remedies offer some defences against certain kind of meningitis, but not all the different causes of meningitis.