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Parents Should Watch Out for This Meningococcemia Symptom in Babies

A pediatric infectious disease specialist shares the primary symptom you should watch out for in your baby.

Meningococcemia is a rare illness but it has made parents worried after cases were confirmed recently in Laguna and Batangas, with some resulting in death. However, the Department of Health (DOH) clarifies that there is no meningococcemia outbreak in the country at the moment.

5 facts parents need to know about meningococcemia

Meningococcemia is “an acute severe bacterial infection caused by Neisseria meningitidis, also called meningococcus,” explains Dr. Jay Ron O. Padua, FPPS, FPIDSP, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from the San Lazaro Hospital. “It is a bloodstream infection that may progress rapidly to septic shock, meningitis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, multiple organ dysfunction, and death if prompt antibiotic treatment is not given.”

Although the disease can be deadly, there are ways to prevent it from spreading. Here are some facts you need to know about meningococcemia, especially if you have an infant or young child:

1. Meningococcemia spreads through direct contact.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people spread meningococcal bacteria to other individuals by sharing respiratory and throat secretions. Those living in the same household are more susceptible to infection as it takes close and lengthy contact — like coughing, kissing, or sharing of utensils — to spread these bacteria.

2. Young children 5 years and below are most vulnerable to meningococcal disease.

Certain age groups are at increased risk for meningococcemia and other meningococcal diseases. According to Dr. Padua, young children 5 years old and below are most vulnerable, with a second peak incidence in adolescence (teens) and young adulthood.

3. In babies, meningococcemia starts with a fever.

In general, the disease starts with nonspecific symptoms like cough, headache, and sore throat, followed by fever, chills, malaise, nausea, vomiting and skin rashes. However, it can quickly progress and if left untreated, the bacteria can kill in a matter of hours.

It is harder to diagnose meningococcemia in babies since they cannot express what they are feeling. According to Dr. Padua, it usually presents with just a fever, but “a rapidly progressing rash warrants immediate medical attention.”

Iloilo Rep. Janette Loreto-Garin, a medical doctor who is also a former Health Secretary, advised the public in a statement to immediately go to the doctor if they have symptoms of meningococcal disease, especially “if there is persistent drowsiness, irritability, fever, children not feeding normally or if symptoms have come on or just worsened very quickly.”

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4. The meningococcal vaccine may be given to babies as early as 6 weeks old.

Meningococcemia is a serious but highly preventable disease. According to Dr. Padua, there are available meningococcal vaccines against the different serogroups or types of Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. Those available in the Philippines are for serogroups A, C, W, and Y. Individuals can get the vaccine in private clinics.

The age for which the vaccines are recommended vary according to the type of vaccine and manufacturer, says Dr. Padua, but “there is a conjugate vaccine that can be given as early as 6 weeks old.” It is best to consult with your doctor about the vaccines that you or your child may need.

5. Vaccination is the best way to prevent meningococcemia.

“There is no other measure that can prevent invasive meningococcal disease such as meningococcemia than vaccination,” says Dr. Padua. However, he also emphasizes that individuals, especially children “keep themselves healthy through good nutrition, exercise, adequate sleep, and practice handwashing.”

The DOH previously stated that the best way to prevent the spread of the disease is through maintaining good hygiene. Wash your hands regularly and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

Dr. Padua adds, “When there is a suspected or confirmed case of meningococcemia in the household, they must visit their doctor to get the necessary post-exposure chemoprophylaxis.”

Many highly contagious diseases are vaccine-preventable. Click here for the list of childhood diseases you can avoid with vaccination.

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