Furakh Mir’s son Sulayman was only a few days old when she noticed something wasn’t right.
“He had a low-grade temperature, he was lethargic and he seemed to be, when awake, very cranky or irritable,” said Mir.
Mir and her husband decided to take the baby to their local hospital. After a few hours they were eventually discharged without a diagnosis. The couple brought their baby home, with an unsettled feeling, only to decide later to take him to the local walk-in clinic. After seeing the physician they were told nothing was serious. Despite hearing from numerous professionals there was nothing serious going on with her child, Mir had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right.
Her family and friends had other thoughts about her uneasiness.
“Everyone just thought about how I was feeling was postpartum or that I was overreacting,” she said. “But it was just this internal feeling – something wasn’t right.”
It wasn’t until they arrived at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, that Sulayman was given top priority. At this point his temperature had risen to 103 degrees Celsius and hospital staff preformed urine and blood tests on him.
“[Doctors] told us at the time, for the worst case scenario they were going to perform a lumbar puncture in order to test for meningitis,” said Mir. “I knew at that time what meningitis was, but never in a million years had my husband and I thought it could be meningitis.”
An hour later the ER physician confirmed a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis and blood poisoning. Sulayman was immediately put on aggressive antibiotics. Mir can remember her scared thoughts.
“We didn’t know if he was going to come out of this,” she confesses.
It wasn’t until 48 hours later that things began to change.
“Fortunately after the first 48 hours his temperature stabilized and he slowly he started acting like his normal self, eating and interacting with us,” said Mir. Sulayman stayed at Sick Kids for nearly a month for treatment.
Mir considers herself one of the lucky ones given the fatal outcomes of the disease.
“I know now as a rule of thumb any time a newborn presents with a temperature anything above normal, that child needs to be seen in the ER right away,” she said.
High fever in infants zero to three months is usually indicative of an infection.
Although Mir was disappointed it wasn’t picked up earlier, Dr. Saul Greenberg, physician with 30 years’ experience says meningitis is difficult to detect because of how similar the early symptoms are to the flu.
“Meningitis, or the meningococcal disease could progress extremely rapidly. You can start to get other things like skin rashes that are red or purple and seizures,” said Dr. Greenberg. In less than half a day these symptoms can progress to a serious illness.
Dr. Greenberg says if children start to look very sick, or are extremely lethargic with neck stiffness or seizures, parents should seek medical assistance, as these are indicators of the disease.
Unfortunately, even if treated in the ER, there is still a ten per cent mortality rate in infants with meningitis. The disease creates significant neurological complications and affects blood vessels and many organs in the body, including the liver and kidneys.
People who get meningitis are normal healthy individuals. Dr. Greenberg says young infants and children up to four years of age are at an increased risk of meningitis as well as teenagers, 15 to 19 years of age. Those with an immune deficiency are also at great risk of the meningitis meningococus germ.
And now for some good news: In December 2013, Canada licensed another meningitis vaccine, protecting Canadians against all major strains of the disease.
Today Sulayman is a robust, healthy toddler and is meeting all his developmental milestones. Yet Mir says there is a lack of knowledge about meningitis both in the public and in health care professionals. In August 2012 she founded Meningitis Relief Canada, a non-profit organization that increases awareness by educating the public about the symptoms and preventative measures of meningitis.
The charity participates in many educational events, hosts’ seminars, workshops and mails out informational brochures to health clinics in Canada.
“What we really hope and strive to do is to educate the public, so that immediate medical attention can be sought. and… ensuring parents have the most current medical information available to them,” said Mir. “…knowledge is power.”