Viral Meningitis Awareness Week runs annually during the first week of May in an attempt to raise public awareness of viral meningitis.
Generally a lot less is understood about viral meningitis and the effect on sufferers compared to bacterial meningitis, which can be fatal. There is no specific guidance for hospitals regarding the follow up of viral meningitis patients, and many people feel they are not taken seriously and face a lack of support in their recovery which, for some, can be slow with long lasting after-effects. Many patients who have contracted viral meningitis report experiencing after effects of headaches, memory loss, dizziness, exhaustion, hearing difficulties and depression and therefore identifying and treating the condition early could possibly help avoid these ongoing symptoms.
There are many different viruses which can cause viral meningitis, the most common causes being enteroviruses which mostly affect children, and Herpes viruses which tend to affect adolescents and adults. Herpes viruses include the herpes simplex viruses (HSVs) and varicella zoster virus which is the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. HSVs can result in meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) but many people affected may have only minor symptoms or even no symptoms at all. An anti-viral medication called Acyclovir can be used to treat certain strains of viral meningitis but treatment is normally limited to easing the symptoms of the disease. Thankfully most people recover without any medical treatment within 5 days to a fortnight.
Testing for meningitis is done by a doctor performing a lumbar puncture to analyse fluid from the spinal canal. A lumbar puncture is vital to confirm the diagnosis of meningitis and to identify which germ is causing the illness. This is particularly important when confirming a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis as this condition usually needs to be treated in hospital for at least a week. People suffering from bacterial meningitis who are diagnosed and treated quickly will most likely make a full recovery, but delays in diagnosis and/or treatment can leave some patients with devastating, long-term problems including hearing or vision loss, epilepsy, balance problems or loss of limbs. Up to 1 in every 10 cases of bacterial meningitis is fatal which is why it is so important to seek medical help as soon as possible.
If a doctor fails to detect the early signs and symptoms of meningitis, the disease can progress to a stage where the patient is left with life altering injuries. The Medical Negligence Team at Wolferstans are currently investigating a number of cases where individuals have experienced a delay in diagnosis and/or treatment of meningitis and have been left with injuries affecting their day to day lives.