Viewpoint: Meningitis in adults

teenager being given a vaccine

Dr Fiona McGill is a NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow at the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health.

“Currently there is considerable debate over who should receive the meningococcal B vaccine – should it be given to only those most at risk, children under one, or should it be available to all children on the NHS?

This reminds us of how far we have come with vaccination against various pathogens that can cause meningitis. Children are now routinely vaccinated against meningococcus, haemophilus and pneumococcus, resulting in huge reductions in disease. What was once common is now thankfully rare.

Within these conversations it is important to remember that meningitis occurs in adults and older children too. Much of the disease in adults is caused by viruses. Whilst viral meningitis doesn’t tend to result in death it does cause significant problems for some patients including persistent headaches, lethargy and cognitive problems. Conversely, the death rate in bacterial meningitis can be as high as 30% and hasn’t changed much in decades. Delays in treatment are known to be associated with an increase in mortality.

New national guidelines on the management of meningitis and meningococcal sepsis in UK adults, led by a team from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of infection and global health, have just been published. These guidelines, produced in conjunction with the Meningitis Research Foundation, the British Infection Association and other specialist societies, will assist doctors on the frontline to manage a rare but potentially deadly disease.

In addition, researchers at the Institute of Infection and Global Health have established the only national study of adults with meningitis – the UK Meningitis Study – aiming to better understand the causes of meningitis in adults, improve laboratory diagnostics and assess the longer term effects.

The results of this study will allow us, and others, to estimate the burden of meningitis – both to the NHS and to the individual patient – within the adult population of the UK. Further research can then be targeted at improving diagnosis and evaluating treatments for both symptomatic relief in viral meningitis and adjunctive treatments to reduce the death rate in bacterial meningitis.”

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