Jeff Beck dies: what are the risks and how to protect yourself from bacterial meningitis

Jeff Beck, considered one of the most influential guitarists of all time, has died at the age of 78.

The musician’s family shared the news on social media. “After contracting bacterial meningitis, he passed away peacefully yesterday (10/1). We ask for privacy as we process this tremendous loss,” the statement concludes.

Beck replaced guitarist Eric Clapton in the band The Yardbirds and, years later, formed a new group in collaboration with singer Rod Stewart.

According to BBC News, “Beck’s timbre, presence and, above all, volume redefined the use of the guitar in 1960s music and influenced movements such as heavy metal, jazz-rock and even punk.”

But what is bacterial meningitis, the cause of the guitarist’s death? Find out below the causes, methods of transmission, risk groups, diagnostic methods, treatment and prevention of this disease.

What is bacterial meningitis?

In summary, meningitis is an inflammatory process that affects the meninges, membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord.

This inflammation can be caused by several agents. The most common are viruses and bacteria.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that although viral meningitis is more common, it is less aggressive and the vast majority of patients recover.

Bacterial meningitis — which, as the name suggests, is caused by bacteria — is usually more serious.

The Brazilian Vaccination Society (SBIM) estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of patients diagnosed with the bacterial version of the disease die. “Of the survivors, 10 to 20 percent are left with some sequelae, such as deafness, limb amputation, or neurological impairment,” calculates the extent.

Several microorganisms can cause this condition. According to the Ministry of Health, the most common agent in Brazil is meningococcus (Neisseria meningitidis), followed by pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae), from Koch’s bacillus (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and fur Haemophilus influenzae.

The ministry estimates that, from 2007 to 2020, the country recorded 87,900 cases and 5,500 deaths from bacterial meningitis.

What are the symptoms and methods of transmission?

The UK Public Health Service (NHS) explains that meningitis is passed from person to person through coughing, sneezing, kissing and talking.

The droplets of saliva and secretions that come out of the nose or mouth carry the bacteria, which ends up in another person’s body and starts an infection.

SBIm adds that “about 10% of the population can be asymptomatic carriers of the bacterium [causadoras de meningite] and pass them on unknowingly, especially to teenagers and young adults.”

The Johns Hopkins Health Center in the United States points out that the main symptoms of bacterial meningitis are:

  • Pain or stiffness in the neck and back of the neck;
  • Headache;
  • High fever;
  • mental confusion or excessive sleepiness;
  • Appearance of purple, bruise-like spots on the skin;
  • Red or irritated skin;
  • Photophobia or sensitivity to light.

In younger children, other signs of the disease include:

  • Irritability;
  • Vomiting and high fever;
  • frequent crying;
  • Swelling of the head;
  • Lack of appetite;
  • Convulsions.

The Johns Hopkins Center reports that “symptoms usually appear quickly, within hours or overnight.”

Going to the emergency room quickly, therefore, is essential to make the diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible.

What are the risk groups?

The Mayo Clinic, in the United States, lists five situations that increase the risk of getting bacterial meningitis:

  • Do not get vaccinated: the risk is greater in those who have not taken the recommended doses of immunizers (we will talk about vaccination later);
  • Age: children under 5 are the most vulnerable. The disease is also often frequent in adolescents and young adults up to 20 years of age;
  • Living in a community setting: college students who share dormitories, individuals on military bases, and children in day care centers or boarding schools are at risk, as bacteria can be more easily transmitted in these environments;
  • Gestation;
  • Immune system failures: individuals with cancer, HIV infection, diabetes, transplant recipients, and other conditions tend to have lower immunity, which paves the way for bacterial invasion.

Dr. Rosana Richtmann, director of the Immunization Committee of the Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases, explains that adolescents get the disease more frequently due to behavioral problems typical of their age.

“This is the era of sharing glasses, kisses, meetings in clubs and closed places…”, list. “And all of this facilitates the transmission of bacteria.”

Among the elderly, explains the expert, the risk of complications is linked to immune evasion, or the decrease in the body’s ability to fight infections.

“Over the years, the defense system becomes more fragile and conditions that were previously simple can become more complicated,” emphasizes the doctor, who is also a member of the Instituto de Infectologia Emílio Ribas, in São Paulo.

How is meningitis diagnosed and treated?

The CDC explains that detection of bacterial meningitis depends on laboratory tests, done through collection of blood or spinal cord fluid.

These tests check for bacteria that cause inflammation in the meninges.

From then on, your doctor will prescribe specific antibiotics that can kill that group of microorganisms.

The NHS adds that many patients also need supportive care, which includes drips and oxygen.

Can bacterial meningitis be prevented?

Vaccination is the main way to reduce the risk of suffering from this disease.

There is no single immunizer capable of tackling all of these bacteria, but different doses, indicated in the schedules and for different age groups, are essential to reduce the risk of infection and complications.

To reduce the likelihood of getting meningitis (and other infections), the Unified Health System (SUS) currently offers the following vaccines:

  • Meningococcus C: protects against serogroup C meningococcus. The scheme provides for three doses: the first at three months of age, the second at five months and the third at 12 months;
  • ACWY meningococcal: protects against meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y. Public authorities indicate a single dose for 11- or 12-year-olds;
  • BCG: protects from Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Single dose, applied immediately after birth;
  • pentavalent: reduces the risk of infection by Haemophilus influenzae, which causes meningitis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, among others. Vaccination scheme of three doses, administered at two, four and six months of life of the child;
  • 10-valent pneumococcus: guard against the Streptococcus pneumoniae. There are three doses, given at two, four and twelve months of age;
  • Pneumococcal 23-valent: It also prevents infections from Streptococcus pneumoniae. Available to all indigenous people over the age of 5 who have not caught 10valent pneumococcus and to individuals over the age of 60 who are in nursing homes and shelters;
  • 13-valent pneumococcus: third vaccine available to protect against Streptococcus pneumoniae. It is only available on the public network for some special groups, such as HIV-infected individuals, cancer patients, and transplant recipients.

Richtmann draws attention to the low vaccination coverage against these disease-causing microorganisms.

“With the introduction of these vaccines into the national calendar more than a decade ago, the incidence of meningitis has plummeted throughout Brazil,” he recalls.

“Therefore, I am concerned about the low adherence to these vaccines in recent times. Those who have not been vaccinated risk contracting a serious and potentially fatal disease,” he adds.

According to the DataSUS portal, only 72% of children received the meningococcal C vaccine in 2021 (data for 2022 is still being updated).

Meningococcal disease ACWY, which targets adolescents, has averaged 30 to 40 percent coverage in recent years — the goal would be to keep rates above 80 percent.

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