Meningitis Under Investigation
Preliminary laboratory investigations regarding a suspected case of meningitis are still pending, but the Public Health Department is maintaining a heightened state of awareness and vigilance, it says.
Noting that meningitis can result from bacterial or viral infections, physical injury, disease or drugs, Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Samuel Williams comments that the Public Health Department is working with overseas partners to gain sufficient information, through extensive laboratory analysis, to determine if a public health response is warranted.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissue that covers the brain and the spinal cord. Viral meningitis is the most common type. It is often less severe than bacterial meningitis, and most people usually get better on their own (without treatment). Meanwhile infants, younger than one month old and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe illness.
Although viral meningitis is rarely fatal bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening. As the symptoms of both are nearly identical, Dr. Williams explains that conclusive tests are necessary to inform any plans by his department’.
While people with meningitis can potentially infect others, the likelihood of widespread transmission is extremely low as the bacteria cannot live for more than a few minutes outside the body. Furthermore with 95% vaccination coverage in the Cayman Islands, any person-to-person transmission of the disease within the Island is bound to be minimal.
Reiterating the importance of vaccination to mitigate infections or transmission, Dr Williams notes that two vaccines approved by the World Health Organization to combat meningitis infection are already routinely given in the Cayman Islands as part of the immunisation schedule. These are:
1. The Hib component of the combined DTaP IPV Hib vaccine.
2. The Meningococcal vaccine MPSV4
The combined DTaP IPV Hib vaccine is part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule, offered at two, four, six and 15 months. It provides protection against the bacteria haemophilus influenza type b which can result in meningitis. Older children and adults at risk for Hib infection also receive the Hib vaccine when indicated.
The meningococcal vaccine MPSV4 is offered mainly to students attending school overseas, especially those who reside in dormitories, and travellers to countries in which meningitis is endemic (dependent on certain factors such as place of residence during visit, length of stay, extent of local interaction etc.). The Public Health Department maintains adequate stocks of both vaccines and persons who may not have had the vaccine can schedule an appointment at the Public Health Clinic to be vaccinated.
It is worth noting that viral meningitis can be a complication of vaccine preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and chicken pox among others. It can also result in serious illness in infants less than one year of age, and persons with a weak immune system.
The pneumococcal vaccine scheduled at two, four, six, and 12 months also provides some degree of meningitis protection.
Public health officials therefore encourage parents of children and members of the public who have not received the DTaP IPV Hib vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine MPSV4 (if required) or the pneumococcal vaccine, to consult with their physician or schedule an appointment at the Public Health Clinic to be vaccinated.
The current childhood immunization schedule recommends that, by the age of 15 months, infants should have received the following vaccines, which offer protection against 13 diseases:
• Three doses of hepatitis B at birth, six weeks, nine months
• One dose of BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin – TB vaccine) at six weeks
• Three doses of rotavirus at six weeks, four months, six months
• Four doses of the combined DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough), IPV (inactivated polio vaccine) and Hib (Haemophilus influenza type b) at two, four, six months , 15 months
• Four doses pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar) at two, four, six months and 12 months
• One dose of varicella (chickenpox) at 12 months
• One dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) & a booster dose of combined DTaP and Hib all at 15 months.
Children also need booster doses of combined DTaP and IPV and second dose of MMR at school entry (four- five years). For children six months and older and all adults, an annual Influenza vaccine is recommended. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is offered to 11-12 year olds girls and older children if they did not get vaccine at this age.
In addition to childhood immunisation, vaccines to prevent serious infectious diseases for adults are also available, including boosts for tetanus and diptheria as well as the annual influenza vaccine.
For information regarding immunisations contact your private pediatrician or the following district health centres:-
Public Health Department: 244-2648
West Bay Health Centre: 949-3439
Bodden Town Health Centre: 947-2299
East End Health Centre: 947-7440
North Side Health Centre: 947-9525
Faith Hospital, Cayman Brac: 948-2243
Little Cayman Clinic: 948-0072