A petition calling for all children to be vaccinated against meningitis B has been signed by more than 800,000 people.
The petition, which is now the most signed online petition in parliamentary history, is calling for the vaccination of all children up to the age of at least 11.
At present, a vaccine to protect against meningitis B is available on the NHS for babies aged two months. This is followed by a second dose at four months plus a booster at 12 months. Parents who wish to have older children vaccinated must pay privately.
The petition was boosted following a campaign by the family of a three-year-old girl who tragically died on Valentine’s Day after she was deemed too old for the vaccine.
Former England rugby captain Matt Dawson also revealed the extreme anguish he and his family were put through after their two-year-old son battled meningitis at Great Ormond Street hospital in London.
Both stories have been widely shared on social media after each family published photographs of their children lying in their hospital beds covered in a rash.
A vaccine to protect against meningitis B became available for babies under the age of one in September last year. The UK is the first country to have introduced the vaccine although health experts warn that not enough is known regarding how effective the vaccine will be.
Meningitis is a serious infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The infection causes the membranes to become inflamed, which in some cases can lead to nerve and brain damage.
Although anyone can develop meningitis, babies and children under the age of five are particularly at risk. Symptoms can include a high fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting and refusal to feed, and often (but crucially, not always) a distinctive red/purple rash that doesn’t fade, confusion, headaches, drowsiness, convulsions, sensitivity to light and severe muscle pains.
There are two types of meningitis: bacterial meningitis and the more common, but less serious, viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is extremely serious and should always be treated as a medical emergency as if it is left untreated it can cause severe brain damage and septicaemia.
Diagnosing meningitis can be difficult as symptoms are often confused with those of flu. Having said that, it is crucial immediate medical help is sought if any of the symptoms of meningitis in young children are identified - even if this means having to go to hospital in the middle of the night.
Meningitis comes on very aggressively and delays of even a few hours can be deadly. If meningitis is suspected, treatment will usually begin before diagnosis is confirmed. This is because some tests need several hours to perform and catastrophic injuries can occur if treatment is delayed.
Sadly, I have a dealt with a number of claims involving babies and small children who suffered delays in diagnosing and treating their meningitis, so the more press attention and general awareness this devastating disease receives, the better.
Paul Sankey is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Slater and Gordon help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of conditions such as meningitis and cancer due to medical negligence. For a free consultation call our medical negligence solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.