GPs struggle to diagnose meningitis
Press release issued: 29 July 2003
GPs find it extremely difficult to diagnose meningitis, particularly in the early stages, and feel under pressure from the public's fear of the disease, according to new research.
The research was funded by the Meningitis Trust and has prompted the charity to reiterate its advice that GPs should use antibiotics at the earliest opportunity for any patient they suspect has meningococcal disease - the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK.
The research, published in the August issue of the British Journal of General Practice, is based on 26 interviews with GPs across both rural and urban practices. The main findings of the research were that:
- GPs find meningitis extremely difficult to diagnose
- meningitis tends to be at the forefront of GPs and patients' minds due to increased awareness of the disease
- GPs use their clinical judgement first and foremost but they also use their professional instinct
Dr Robert Heyderman who led the research at the University's Department of Pathology & Microbiology and the Division of Primary Care, said: "This unique research helps us understand better the difficulties of making a diagnosis in general practice. It shows that because meningitis is so very hard to spot in its early stages, most GPs rely heavily on personal experience and intuition."
Philip Kirby, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Trust, said: "While we fully recognise the diagnostic problems faced by GPs, the research has prompted us to reiterate our advice - namely that if GPs suspect one of their patients may have meningitis or meningococcal septicaemia, they should administer Benzylpencillin straight away and admit them to hospital as quickly as possible.
"The Meningitis Trust will continue its vital work in raising awareness among health professionals so that it can be recognised more quickly and treated faster - so more lives can be saved.
"Public awareness of the disease is also vital. The public need to be vigilant and know what to do should they spot the signs and symptoms of meningitis, particularly as there is no vaccine against meningococcal B disease."
If you have any questions or concerns about meningitis, please contact the Trust's 24 hour Helpline on 0845 6000 800 or visit www.meningitis-trust.org
Management of Diagnostic Uncertainty in Children with Possible Meningitis - A Qualitative Study is published in the British Journal of General Practice on Monday 28 July 2003