Experiencing severe headaches, at times vomiting and suddenly becoming sensitive to light, Silas Tarava thought he had contracted malaria.
But a lumbar puncture confirmed he had meningitis, and for a while his family thought they were going to lose him. And he felt the same.
More than a decade later, Tarava lives to tell his story. “I became ill in 2005 with headaches, vomiting and sensitivity to light. Of all the symptoms I presented, severe headaches were the worst,” recalled Tarava recently. “Most of the time I would wrap a wet cloth around my forehead with the thinking that it was going to help, but it didn’t. I needed help with everything . . . My family thought I was going to die. So did I.
“I was working one Monday and didn’t feel well, and I started vomiting in the evening. My wife took me to the then Mabvuku Clinic and I was given medication to ease the headache. “After three days I went to Harare Central Hospital, as I hadn’t been able to keep anything down; I just slept and vomited. I was told it was viral and that I’d be better the next week. “ . . . I went back to the doctors and saw a different general practitioner. He asked a few questions and said he thought it might be meningitis.”
Tarava was admitted at Harare Central Hospital where a lumbar puncture was performed. “The lumbar puncture showed my white cell count was over 600 when it should have been less than 18 – confirming that it was meningitis,” he said.
After a week in hospital, the pain got worse. “But after being put under a series of medication, that is when I started to come around from lying in a dark room, vomiting and not eating, to taking my eye mask off and not vomiting as much.”
After nearly a month in hospital, Tarava was discharged on pain control and anti-sickness medication. But he was to be confined to a wheelchair for 11 months due to back pain.
Tarava still experiences some of the side effects of meningitis — but he is delighted to be alive. “I have become forgetful. But most importantly, I’m here to watch my daughter and three grandchildren grow and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord and can be caused by bacteria and viruses.
It is a brutal disease and can kill within hours, or leave survivors with life-changing after-effects. One-in-three of those who survive bacterial meningitis suffer from brain damage and hearing and sight loss.
Common signs and symptoms of meningitis include fever, cold hands and feet, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion and irritability, severe muscle pain, pale and blotchy skin, spots/rash, severe headache, stiff neck, dislike bright lights and convulsions, among others.
Meningitis mainly spreads through kissing, sneezing, coughing and living in cramped quarters. The disease is a serious source of public health concern associated with high morbidity and mortality worldwide, and is more widespread than people generally assume.
Nigeria is grappling with an outbreak that has killed around 1 000 people since January 2017. In Egypt, fatality rates are up to 55 percent, with similar figures in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
An approximated 890 000 cases of meningitis are reported worldwide annually, with at least 500 000 of these in Africa.
The Harare City Council reports meningitis as one of the five leading causes of death in the Zimbabwe’s capital. “Reports from Zimbabwe show that the magnitude of the health burden due to meningitis is as high as that carried by other parts of the developing world,” said Dr Portia Manangazira, Director for Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Health and Child Care Ministry.
“However, there is limited published data on the causes and origins of meningitis. It is also important to know that people can carry these bacteria in or on their bodies without being sick thereby becoming ‘carriers’. Most carriers never become sick, but can still spread the bacteria to others.
“The most effective way to be protected against certain types of bacterial meningitis is to get vaccinated against the three types of bacteria that can cause meningitis. “. . . If you have close contact with someone who has viral meningitis, they may spread the virus to you. However, you are not likely to develop meningitis. That is because most people infected with these viruses will not develop meningitis. “However, injuries, cancer, certain drugs and other types of infections also can cause meningitis. It is important to know the specific cause of meningitis because the treatment differs depending on the cause.”
Viral meningitis is usually less serious than bacterial meningitis but can still leave people with long-lasting after-effects such as headaches, fatigue and memory problems.
- Bacterial meningitis is life-threatening.
- Viral meningitis is rarely life-threatening, but can leave people with lifelong after-effects.
- All causes of meningitis are serious and need medical attention.
- Meningitis can affect anyone of any age at any time.
- Meningitis can strike quickly and kill within hours, so urgent medical attention is essential.
- Vaccines are the only way to prevent meningitis, and until we have vaccines to prevent all types, you need to know the signs and symptoms to look out for and the action to take.
- Most people will make a good recovery, but some will suffer life-long after effects and complications. — Mayo Clinic.
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