BANGALORE: Though neonatal meningitis is common among newborns, there is a delay in the treatment of the disease in the state due to the absence of specific symptoms. Hence it is imperative that on World Meningitis Day, observed on April 24, to highlight the need to create an awareness among health care providers and parents on the neonatal meningitis.
To begin with, neonatal meningitis is a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain that affects infants under one month of age. Dr Adarsh Somashekar, consultant pediatrician, Motherhood Hospital, says that nearly 30 to 40 per cent of the newborn in the country are affected by this infection; and of this number, nearly 40 to 50 per cent of infants suffer brain damage. He adds that the incidence of such cases in India is 3 per 1,000 live births while it is 0.4 cases per 1,000 live births across developed countries. Premature and underweight babies are more susceptible to this disease and the infants are considered to be at a higher risk if it is a case of delivery under unsterile conditions.
Health experts maintain that meningitis is not always easy to recognise as it does not have specific symptoms. While in many cases, the infection may be progressing with no symptoms at all; in the early stages of the infection, symptoms might be similar to those of common flu. Dr Karthik Nagesh, Head of the Department of Neonatology, Manipal Hospital, says, "Unfortunately, the infection is not recognised in its early stages leading to delayed evaluation. The treatment of the cross infection should start at an early stage with appropriate antibiotics." He adds that delayed treatment also leads to excessive water collection in the brain and other neurodevelopmental complications.
Early identification and prompt treatment is critical for survival of the infants. Strict antiseptic procedure during delivery, sanitised conditions washing hands while handling newborn babies, and extra care with premature and underweight children are a must to protect them from such potentially dangerous conditions.