The symptoms resemble those associated with the flu, but the outcome can be infinitely worse.
That's why Coquitlam-based parenting consultant Kathy Lynn is recommending a proactive approach to meningitis, rather than a reactive one.
Given that Tuesday, April 24 has been deemed World Meningitis Day, the NOW parenting columnist spoke to the need for early detection in an interview Thursday.
"The fever spikes really quickly and all the symptoms come on amazingly quickly," Lynn said. "My message to parents is to make sure you're getting vaccinated, but also that if your instincts are telling you something isn't right, call the doctor immediately.
Death comes very quickly, anywhere from 24 to 48 hours from when [the symptoms] first start."
Lynn said the early symptoms of meningitis include coughing, sneezing, fever and vomiting.
"It really looks like the flu and that's the problem," she said. "But the thing that really distinguishes it is that there is often neck pain and sometimes a really strange purplish-brown rash everywhere."
And while meningitis and flu bugs share common symptoms, they're also similar in the way they are contracted.
"It is spread through close contact, just like the cold or the flu: coughing, sneezing, sharing eating utensils, kissing - all of these can spread it," Lynn said.
The issue of meningitis struck a chord within Coquitlam as recently as two months ago, when 19-year-old University of Victoria student Leo Chan died from the disease. Another Coquitlam resident, Brodie Campbell, died in 2007 of meningitis at the age of 15.
Meningitis typically affects children under the age of one, and teens and young adults.
There are five common strains - A, B, C, W-135 and Y - and vaccines are available for four of them.
The problem is, there is no vaccine for the B strain in Canada, which is the most common.
"Parents really do need to know that they should be talking to their doctors about the other strains and ensuring that their kids are being vaccinated against the rest of them," she said.
"It's one of those diseases that people can carry the germs without realizing it.
They're not sick, but they can transmit the germs. It can be there and you can never get sick."
For more info on meningitis, log on to www.meninfo.ca.
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