'We didn't know if she would live or die'- Mum of Anabel (1) on her child's battle with deadly meningitis
When one-year-old Anabel took ill, Farrah Tayob went against medical advice that her daughter might just be teething.
Maternal instinct is a very powerful feeling and by acting on hers, Farrah Tayob undoubtedly saved the life of her daughter Anabel (1) before the infant succumbed to a deadly strain of meningitis.
This week is Meningitis Awareness Week, and Anabel’s story is a chilling reminder of how fast this virus can develop and how vital it is to act as quickly as possible.
“One night in January, Anabel woke before midnight, which is very unlike her,” says the mother of two. “She had a slight temperature and I gave her some Calpol before bringing her into bed with me — but instead of settling down, she tossed and turned all night and in the morning when my son Alexander (6), went to give her a kiss, she got really upset and started screaming crying.
“She carried on being crabby and out of sorts for a few hours and her temperature was still a little raised, so in the evening I rang the out-of-hours medical service but was told they were too busy to see her until the following day.
“Even though they tried to reassure me that she was probably teething, I knew instinctively that something wasn’t right, and decided to take her to casualty,” says Farrah.
This swift action probably made all the difference to Anabel’s recovery, as although Farrah didn’t have any idea how much danger her daughter was in, she acted on impulse and not long after arriving at A&E, her baby’s condition took a dramatic turn for the worse.
“Anabel started vomiting in the car on the way to the hospital,” says the Dublin woman. “Then when we arrived, her temperature had started to rise and all of a sudden she lost all colour and literally looked like death — I was so terrified.
“The examining nurse found two tiny pinpricks of a rash — one on each leg — they were so small that I didn’t notice them and hadn’t once thought she may have had meningitis. I was devastated when they said they had to do tests to rule it out.”
Per capita, Ireland has the highest rate of meningococcal disease in Europe and the second highest in the world. There are approximately 150-200 cases of bacterial meningitis here every year, but after various tests it was discovered that Anabel had contracted an extremely rare form of the disease (W135) which only affects one or two people a year in this country.
This diagnosis meant constant monitoring of her condition was imperative. Thankfully following treatment and round-the-clock intensive care, the little girl recovered and was discharged from hospital 10 days later.
“Looking back, I still find it very painful as it was a very harrowing time for us all,” says Farrah. “Anabel went through so much and at the time, we had no idea what her prognosis would be — whether she would live or die or whether she would be left with some sort of disability — it was all very scary.
“But thankfully after five days on antibiotics, she finally turned a corner and was let home a few days after that — it was the most terrifying time of my life and even now, I can’t believe how lucky we are that she survived the ordeal. If I hadn’t trusted my instincts, she may not be here today as we came so close to losing her.”
Meningitis is the most feared infectious disease as it can kill a healthy person within 24 hours and there is no way of knowing who it is going to strike. About one in 10 of us carry the bacteria at the back of our nose and throat at any one time and will never become ill. However it will result in disease in a small percentage of people. It is essentially a race against time to start appropriate treatment — so time really is of the essence.
New treatment for meningitis was reported last month, including plans for a new rapid test which detects sepsis — this breakthrough could help prevent many children from contracting the virus.
“Meningitis Research Foundation is proud to have supported research which has led to the discovery of two genes that are switched either on or off depending on whether a child has a bacterial or viral infection,” says Caroline O’Connor of Meningitis Ireland.
“The international team of scientists hope to use the findings to develop a rapid test which could allow doctors to quickly distinguish between a viral or bacterial illness and could be used in hospital emergency departments or GP surgeries, to identify the children who need antibiotics.”
At the moment, when a child arrives at hospital with fever, doctors have no quick method of distinguishing whether the child is suffering from bacterial or viral form of meningitis. Diagnosis relies instead on taking a sample of blood or spinal fluid, and seeing if bacteria grow in this sample — but this can take more than 48 hours and speed is of the essence.
“Differentiating between viruses and bacteria is extremely important,” says O’Connor. “Although viral infections are much more common than bacterial infections, the latter are far more dangerous.
“So although the research is at an early stage, the results show bacterial infection can be distinguished from other causes of fever, such as a viral infection, using the pattern of genes that are switched on or off in response to the infection.”
In February 2016 the HSE announced that it will be introducing a new vaccine to protect against group B meningococcal disease (MenB) to the Primary Childhood Immunisation Schedule from December 2016. The vaccine will be routinely offered to all babies born on or after October 1 2016, at two, four and 12 months. But there is no catch-up campaign planned for children who fall outside of this age group — however, the vaccine has been available privately in Ireland since 2013, but there are high costs involved (€130-€180 per dose.Children require between 2 and 4 doses of the vaccine).
Caroline O’Connor, medical information officer, says while there has been some controversy surrounding the new vaccine (high costs and lack of catch-up doses), it will be beneficial to many.
“The vaccine is estimated to protect against approximately 78-88pc of the MenB strain circulating in Ireland and the rest of Europe and its impact will be closely monitored following its introduction later this year,” she says.
“Vaccination offers the best form of protection against meningitis and we have seen great results with the introduction of previous vaccines to help protect against other forms of the disease.
“Unfortunately no vaccine offers 100pc protection, so it is vital that people are aware of the signs.”