Survey Finds Lack of Parental Awareness of Meningitis Risk in Children

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Parents are not fully educated on the risk of meningitis infection and preventive efforts for their children.

In a new study, researchers found that many parents did not have extensive knowledge on meningitis, compared to other infectious diseases that can interfere with children’s health.

Neisseria meningitidis or meningococcus are Gram-negative coccus bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis - Image credit: AGPhotography | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: AGPhotography | stock.adobe.com

The study, commissioned by GSK, found that 72% of parents had some knowledge or knew a great deal about meningitis, but 93% could not label the 3 most common meningitis symptoms. However, 88% of parents defined meningitis as a serious childhood disease, but 1 in 3 were not aware of the readily available meningitis vaccine.

Meningitis is challenging to diagnose due to overlapping signs and symptoms with other infectious diseases. Symptoms caused by meningitis infection include fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, and vomiting.

The press release noted that each year 2.5 million individuals are diagnosed with meningitis and 1.2 million of the individuals infected develop invasive meningococcal disease (IMD).

“Meningitis may be fatal within 24 hours, so it is critical that everyone is aware of the disease and knows the signs and symptoms to watch for and can act fast. The survey builds on our existing research to show that not enough parents know the signs and symptoms of meningitis, and that more must continue to be done to support people, so they know when to get medical help and more lives can be saved,” said Brian Davies, Head of Health Insights and Policy at the Meningitis Research Foundation, in a press release. “We are working with health care professionals and other partners in many countries to change that, whilst also encouraging parents to always trust their instincts and get medical help as soon as possible, if they suspect meningitis.”

The press release noted that other infections were reported to be more commonly known by parents—95% for COVID-19, 94% for the flu, 86% for measles, 82% for pneumonia, and 74% for whooping cough.

The researchers conducted the survey in the United States, Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, United Kingdom, and Italy between June and August of 2023. In total, 4001 parents were included in the survey who were a parent or legal guardian of at least 1 child, 0 to 18 years old. The parent needed to be the sole or joint decision maker regarding their child’s vaccination status.

The press release noted that the results found that only 49% of parents were aware that meningitis could lead to death and 28% have never heard or knew anything about the infection. The survey also reported 53% of parents did not know which strain of meningitis was available for a vaccine, but 88% reported that they rely on health care professionals for advice on their child’s vaccine. However, 11% of parents were not aware of the severity of the infection and 17% did not know the consequences.

“This new data shows that meningitis awareness amongst parents is still too low, despite the significant public health challenges it poses. More education is needed on its signs, symptoms, and consequences to help protect children and adolescents from the life-changing consequences of meningitis,” said Piyali Mukherjee, Vice President and Head of Global Medical Affairs for Vaccines at GSK, in the press release. “At GSK, we work with health care professionals and community partners to find ways and implement actions to reduce its impact, supporting the WHO’s 2030 vision to ultimately defeat this devastating disease.”

Reference

GSK survey finds parents know less about meningitis compared to some other childhood diseases. GSK. News release. October 5, 2023. Accessed October 6, 2023. https://www.gsk.com/media/10600/world-meningitis-day-press-release.pdf

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