The Meningitis Trust’s first Viral Meningitis Week, between 6 and 10 May, aims to dispel misconceptions among health professionals and the general public that the disease is always ‘mild’ and highlight the long-term difficulties sufferers can face.
It is estimated that there are around 5,000 cases of viral meningitis each year in the UK and the week coincides with the start of the peak season for viral meningitis, with the majority of cases happening during the warmer months.
The charity is asking its supporters to use the week, entitled Take it Seriously, to deliver a letter to their local GPs surgery calling for better understanding, treatment and after-care of those who contract the disease. A recent Trust survey showed that 97% of viral meningitis victims who responded are left with debilitating after-effects including exhaustion, headaches, memory loss, depression, anxiety and hearing difficulties.
Of those who took part in the survey, over 40% did not receive any information on the disease and only one in three was offered a follow up hospital appointment. The Trust is using the findings to help it further improve the support it provides, educate health professionals and the public and empower victims.
“Our survey showed the true impact of viral meningitis, prompting us to take more action on behalf of all sufferers and their families” said Sue Davie, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK*.
“Because viral meningitis is rarely life-threatening, many sufferers feel that their illness is taken less seriously than bacterial meningitis. But over half of those who took part in our survey said the disease had caused them difficulty at work or in education and many felt that family, friends, health professionals or employers did not understand its full impact. We want our awareness week to hammer home the message that viral meningitis is not always the mild illness it is usually portrayed as.”
Viral meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. These membranes are called the meninges – they help protect the brain from injury and infection. Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis, but is rarely life-threatening.
Recovery from viral meningitis can be very slow, but is usually complete. The Trust’s survey showed that 90% of people were no longer experiencing after-effects 6 to 12 months after the illness, and this rose to 93% one year after. However, this still means that 7 per cent were living with after-effects more than one year after the illness.
The Meningitis Trust has a number of free services that are tailored to victims of viral meningitis, including funding complementary therapies, counselling, one-to-one support and home visits. Services can be accessed via the charity’s free 24-hour nurse-led helpline on 0808 80 10 388 or www.meningitis-trust.org/support.
For further details on viral meningitis and how you can get involved in the week, visit www.meningits-trust.org/viralweek