High fever, vomiting, confusion, irritability, stiff neck, headache. These are the classic symptoms of meningitis, a serious pathology of the central nervous system which, if not treated in time, can have lethal consequences or cause permanent disabilities. “The most effective tool to defend against this disease is vaccination prophylaxis – says Paolo Biasci, president of Fimp, the main union of family pediatricians – but convincing families is not always easy. Sensitizing parents so that they protect their children with everyone. the vaccination cycles we have available, making them understand that there are various types of meningitis, and consequently a vaccine for each form of the disease, is very important “.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an international survey conducted by Ipsos for Gsk, from March 2020 to March 2021 one in two parents was forced to postpone or cancel the appointment for the meningitis vaccination. “A very serious mistake – warns Biasci – It is necessary never to let your guard down, especially at this time when we talk about anti-Covid vaccination to defeat the virus. Well, but woe to put aside or neglect all the other appointments of the vaccination schedule “.
In recent days, the Fimp has dedicated an event to the disease entitled ‘Meningitis at 360 °’, promoted and organized in Genoa with the aim of rekindling attention on the need to verify that all children and all children have performed vaccinations against meningitis, to make up for any delays, but above all not to wait for the parent to contact the pediatrician, but for the family pediatricians with the active call to urge families to vaccinate and recover their children.
Meningitis “can be of various types”, recalls the number one of the Fimp. “Those to which we commonly refer, for which we have a possibility of prevention through vaccinations – he explains – are meningococcal meningitis. Of these there are various subtypes: meningitis A, C, W, Y. Then there is the subgroup B, for which there is a specific vaccination. Then the other types of bacterial meningitis, from Haemophilus influenzae type B (for this form children are vaccinated as early as the third month of life) and pneumococcal meningitis “. Which age groups are most at risk? “As regards type B meningococcal meningitis – continues Biasci – the first months of life are particularly at risk, so the need to start vaccinating the child from the third month of life is always emphasized. There are other meningitis. whose incidence occurs in children and adolescents. Among these, meningococcus type B and C and meningococcus type Y. It is important to be vaccinated for all these types of bacteria and to be protected throughout the pediatric age at least “.
The main causes of meningitis are viral, bacterial and fungal infections. Among the infectious meningitis, bacterial meningitis is the most dangerous because it can have permanent consequences (deafness, amputation of the limbs, epilepsy or mental retardation), up to death.
Every year in Italy over 1,000 people contract meningitis and about one in two people is affected by meningococcal meningitis. In particular, serogroups B and C are particularly widespread in our country. According to epidemiological data from the Higher Institute of Health (ISS), meningococcal meningitis causes death in 8-14% of affected patients. In the absence of adequate treatment, the mortality rate rises to as much as 50%. As for serotype B, in addition to being particularly aggressive with very high lethality, it alone is responsible for about 80% of cases in pediatric age, with a maximum incidence especially in the first year of life, between the 4th and 8th month. Globally, however, according to data from the World Health Organization, 500 thousand cases of meningococcal meningitis occur every year, of which about 50 thousand fatal. In addition, 5-10% of people who contract the infection die despite the disease being diagnosed in time and receiving appropriate treatment. As for the meningococcal serotype B, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 80,000 cases occur worldwide each year, with an average lethality rate of 10%.
“At the moment there is a lot of talk about Covid – observes the president of the family pediatricians – and to reach through vaccination the appropriate coverage that will allow us to defeat the virus. All right, but we must not risk leaving aside or reducing the ‘attention to other prophylaxis that are those of the vaccination calendar “.
With the reopening of schools and a relaxation of the restrictions that actually favor social contacts between children and adolescents, what is the situation today? “The official data of the Ministry of Health are not yet available – Biasci points out – but we know that almost all the deadlines of the vaccination calendar have suffered a decline in many regions. This is due to the commitment of staff and vaccination centers. regions to other activities in the pandemic emergency phase (anti-Covid vaccination campaign, swabs, tracing), and in some cases there has even been a closure of vaccination centers. It is easy to imagine the damage that this situation may have caused. that we family pediatricians have been denouncing for many months, because the delays could have been avoided by asking each family pediatrician to vaccinate their patients. pediatrician-parents trust, consequently we would have already reached the goal. Only in very few regions there have been no significant drops vaccinations, indeed in some situations we found very good coverage “.
Finally, on the possibility of vaccinating children aged 5-11 against Covid-19, “we are ready to do it in our clinics – assures Biasci – I don’t see children of 5 or 6 going to the hub to get the vaccine. . If the mother has a doubt or a question, she must turn to a complete stranger. Instead, the ambulatory environment, known to the child and the parents, will favor the adhesion. Even if by now swabs and vaccines are performed everywhere, from the hubs to pharmacies, I think that the National Health Service should enhance what it already has. We pediatricians of free choice have been a resource for the NHS for 50 years, I believe that ‘exploiting’ ourselves to the full is the most obvious and simple thing to do. he proposed to organize clinics to vaccinate children against Covid in schools. I take it as a joke, useful for some newspaper headlines “.