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Wed, 24th December 2014
 

Many mothers are terrified at the vision of deadly meningococcal infection striking their children. Traumatic media stories regularly scare the living hell out of them, and the constant fear of "my little one" is forever in mind - and rightly so. At present meningococcal infection is the leading cause of childhood mortality in the western world - it is global disaster. However, probably more terrifying is the fact that up to 50 per cent of us carry the germ around normally in the back part of the throat! It is a germ known only in humans.

ALL CARRY GERMS

Why the germ should suddenly invade the body is unknown. There may be a genetic predisposition some believe. Most patients are under 4 years. Although called "meningitis", the most serious form is a septicaemia, meaning the germ enters the blood stream and circulates widely. This is the horror picture. Only a small number of cases of true infection of the meninges the brain lining occur.

SYMPTOMS

Early symptoms include fever, often sudden and high, vomiting, aching muscles, and symptoms of septic shock. The germ releases potent toxins from its outer coating which can rapidly affect the heart, so the need for prompt treatment. The classical tell tale symptom is a positive "tumbler test". Place a glass over the rash and press. Usually the colour vanishes, but it remains with the infection, a simple do-it-yourself diagnostic check.

TEST

The red mark may be as small as 2 mm across - there may be more than one. If this is so, urgent medical management is essential and may be life saving. Alternately, some children suffer headache, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, drowsiness, stiff neck and find light hurts the eyes and fever, plus the non blanching rash. This is when the brain is affected, much less common situation. The infection often occurs as a medical emergency. Get to an ER as quickly as possible. Here intravenous antibiotics may be given and are life sparing. Special "PCR" tests also confirm accurate diagnosis, but management is usually started urgently.

INTENSIVE CARE

Intensive care is usually carried out. Majority of children survive, but up to 8 per cent may die from the septic shock and its complications. Some have hearing loss and neuromuscular disorders later. Today, the disease is preventable with vaccination, and this has resulted in a dramatic decline in some forms. Immunisation should never be ignored by parents.

 
KIDS AT PLAY

Q: 

A group of youngsters in the street behind my home are out every afternoon after school playing cricket (or kicking a football). However good this may be, I am always fearful that an accident may occur, specially as the spot is on the corner of the road. The "wicket" is the lamp post.

A: 

Kids will be kids, millions have done it before, and they will continue, despite the risks. Today, getting youngsters involved in any type of extra-curricular activity is difficult, and many backyards no longer exist. Fortunately, parental education from an early age often gives them a sense of proportion, and self empowerment, and reduces accident risks. Nevertheless, this must be constantly repeated, for chasing the sporting ball tends to occupy every adrenaline charged neuron. But accidents can occur anywhere, including the sports field itself.

 
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ADRENALINE RUSH

Q: 

In Australia we talk about adrenaline, but in America it seems to be epinephrine. Why the difference for the same product.

A: 

In America, "Adrenaline" is a registered trade mark, and not a generic word, and so its limited generic use. Similarly, paracetamol in Australia (and the myriad trade names such as Panadol, Panamax, Dymadon) has a different generic name in the US. Tylenol probably being the most commonly known trade name in the world of the highly profitable legal drug industry, names are extremely big business and guarded with a bizarre frenzy.

 
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TALK TO THE TREES

Q: 

A friend says she talks to the trees, and sits still to receive the answers. Is she going cuckoo?

A: 

Heaps believe that anything with life emits some sort of energy or waves or vibrations. Who is to disagree, for the wisest person is still trying to find where life came from. As soon as you cut flowers, or grass, or a tree, life quickly evaporates, and it too dies. Living things have the magic of making a person feel better. If a dog wags its tail, one feels better, whatever the mood. If the cat licks your fingers, that too exhilarates. That's why so many with nothing else in life, love their pets, gardens, shrubs or potted plants.

 
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PALM LUMP

Q: 

I am early fifties and have developed a very firm elongated lump in the palm between the wrist and fifth finger. It is not sore, and has occurred over the past two years without obvious cause.

A: 

This is probably the early start of Dupytrens Contracture. This means a thickening of the sheath of the strap like tendons going from forearm and wrist to the bones of the fingers. It may gradually worsen, but very slowly. The tendency is inherited. It was once thought due to irritation, such as holding reins when driving horses, or irritation from a tennis racquet handle in a sportsperson. Sometimes cortisone is injected, often it is left. In years to come, flexion of the fingers may occur, corrected with plastic surgical intervention.

 
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COMPUTER

Q: 

I learnt to touch type when twelve and have maintained a good speed throughout life. Transferring to a computer keyboard which is identical to a typewriter, I have never ending trouble with errors, repeated lines and millions of errors which makes me mad.

A: 

Early keyboards required power from the fingers to generate a strike. Force needed was less with electric models, but the super light touch needed for today's computer keyboards means the required power learned as a child has not vanished, to be reflected in unnecessary force which can only lead to errors. Trying to un-learn an automatic skill is very difficult.

 
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This health advice is general in nature. You are advised to seek medical attention from your doctor or health care provider for your own specific symptoms and circumstances.

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