What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of
the covering of the brain and spinal cord---also called the meninges.
It can be caused by viruses, parasites, fungi, and bacteria. Viral
(aseptic) meningitis is common; most people recover fully. Medical
management of viral meningitis consists of supportive treatment and
there is usually no indication for the use of antibiotics. Parasitic
and fungal meningitis are very rare. Bacterial meningitis is very
serious and may involve complicated medical, surgical, pharmaceutical,
and life support management.
There are two common types of bacteria that cause meningitis:
- Strep pneumoniae causes pneumococcal meningitis; there are over 80 subtypes that cause illness
- Neisseria meningitidis—meningococcal meningitis; there are 5 subtypes that cause serious illness—A, B, C, Y, W-135
What are the symptoms?
with meningitis will become very ill. The illness may develop over one
or two days, but it can also rapidly progress in a matter of hours. Not
everyone with meningitis will have the same symptoms.
Children (over 1 year old) and adults with meningitis may have:
- Severe headache
- High temperature
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- Neck stiffness, joint pains
- Drowsiness or confusion
*In both children and adults,
there may be a rash of tiny, red-purple spots or bruises caused by
bleeding under the skin. These can occur anywhere on the body. They are a
sign of blood poisoning (septicemia), which sometimes happens with
meningitis, particularly the meningococcal strain.
How serious is bacterial meningitis?
it is diagnosed early and treated promptly, the majority of people make
a complete recovery. In some cases it can be fatal or a person may be
left with a permanent disability, such as deafness, blindness,
amputations or brain damage (resulting in mental retardation or
paralysis) even with prompt treatment.
How is bacterial meningitis spread?
none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as
diseases like the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by
casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with
meningitis has been. The germs live naturally in the back of our noses
and throats, but they do not live for long outside the body. They are
spread when people exchange saliva (such as by kissing; sharing drinking
containers, utensils, or cigarettes).
The germ does not cause
meningitis in most people. Instead, most people become carriers of the
germ for days, weeks or even months. Being a carrier helps to stimulate
your body's natural defense system.
The bacteria rarely overcomes the body's immune system and causes meningitis or
another serious illness.
What is the risk of getting bacterial meningitis?
risk of getting bacterial meningitis in all age groups is about 2.4
cases per 100,000 population per year. However, the highest risk group
for the most serious form of the disease, meningococcal meningitis, is
highest among children 2 to 18 years old.
How is bacterial meningitis diagnosed?
diagnosis is usually based on a combination of clinical symptoms and
laboratory results from spinal fluid and blood. Spinal fluid is
obtained by a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
How can bacterial meningitis be prevented?
Do not share food, drinks, utensils, toothbrushes, or cigarettes. Limit the number of persons you kiss.
against pneumococcal disease are recommended both for young children
and adults over 64. A vaccine against four meningococcal serogroups (A,
C, Y, W-135) is available. These four groups cause the majority of
meningococcal cases in the United States. This vaccine is recommended
by some groups for college students, particularly freshmen living in
dorms or residence halls. The vaccine is safe and effective (85-90%).
It can cause mild side effects, such as
redness and pain at the
injection site lasting up to two days. Immunity develops within 7 to 10
days after the vaccine is given and lasts for up to 5 years.
What you should do if you think you or a friend might have bacterial meningitis?
Seek prompt medical attention.
For more information
school nurse, family doctor, and the staff at your local or regional
health department office are excellent sources for information on all
communicable diseases. You may also call your local health department
or Regional Texas Department of Health office to ask about meningococcal
vaccine. Additional information may also be found at the web sites for
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Department of Health.