Parents, be careful when kissing your children Kisses can pass on a deadly meningococcal infection

17 July, 2020

Paediatrics

 

Meningococcal infections may sound strange, but in reality, between 4% and 35% of healthy adults have meningococcal bacteria in their nasopharynx. Once infected, a person's condition can become very serious and deteriorate rapidly, with a mortality rate of as high as 10%. Because of this, Dr Phillip Sham, a Paediatric Specialist at Gleneagles Hospital Hong Kong, reminds everyone to be alert about this disease.

 

"Meningococcal bacteria can invade a person's bloodstream quickly, causing meningococcal bacteraemia. It can also invade the inner membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing epidemic meningitis. Common symptoms include a fever, headache, skin stasis spots, shock, vomiting, rashes, etc. This infection can cause severe brain damage, mental retardation, arthritis, pneumonia, and even death, so when these symptoms occur, please do not hesitate to seek medical help." Dr Sham said.

 

The story of Xiaoli (pseudonym), a seven-month-old infant, illustrates Dr Sham's concern. When Xiaoli exhibited a sudden high fever accompanied by a loss of appetite, her parents took her to the hospital immediately. When she arrived, in addition to a higher fever, she also had cold hands and feet and a fast heartbeat. After noticing these symptoms, the hospital staff immediately admitted her for observation.

 

Xiaoli's condition progressed very quickly. Shortly after admission, her doctors immediately arranged blood draws and a series of related examinations, where they discovered blood-coloured rashes on her body that lingered and didn't seem to fade. After assessing all of her combined symptoms, the doctors suspected that Xiaoli had a meningococcal infection.

 

These infections must be treated as soon as possible, usually with antibiotics. Thus, doctor gave her antibiotics right away, and her condition began to improve gradually afterwards. Two days after Xiaoli was admitted to the hospital, she was confirmed suffering from meningococcal meningitis. The doctor continued her antibiotic treatments, and she eventually recovered and was discharged.

 

Dr Sham notes that in addition to treating infected patients with antibiotics, those who are in close contact with these patients should be monitored and receive preventative drugs. He also reminds parents and children to maintain proper daily personal and environmental hygiene, including covering your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, and washing your hands immediately afterwards.

 

"Even healthy parents can still carry meningococcal bacteria in their nasopharynx. This bacteria can be spread by inhaling the droplets in a cough or sneeze, as well as through direct contact with respiratory secretions. For this reason, when you kiss your baby to show affection, it's important to avoid the 'face's dangerous triangle' – the region between the corners of the mouth and the base of the nose that contains many blood vessels leading to the brain. Infants and young children whose mature immune functions are not yet developed can be at risk of contracting this unfortunate infection from a kiss in this area from a parent who is a meningococcal bacteria carrier," Dr Sham explained.


To protect your child, remember to wash your hands thoroughly before being in close contact. In addition, avoid touching high-risk areas to reduce your baby's chance of a meningococcal infection. Finally, if you are in a location with a high risk of meningococcal infections, you may wish to consult a doctor and consider getting a vaccination to protect yourself.