Meningitis. What is it exactly? Your only knowledge of it is probably related to a memory of getting vaccinated, but today, we’re here to give you a refresher!
Meningitis, also known as Meningococcal disease, is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It’s is mainly caused by viral or bacterial infections. Once infection occurs, it spreads throughout the bloodstream to the nervous system. Though there is no specific age for those at risk of contracting bacterial meningitis, it is more common in infants, young children and people over 60. Viral Meningitis is more common in children, but can infect people of all ages. Infants and children are more at risk since their immune system isn’t fully developed, but others with a weakened immune system or those who travel to foreign countries may also be at risk. Here’s a breakdown between the two main types.
Bacterial Meningitis occurs more often in the cold, winter months. The most common strain is bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, followed by streptococcus. It’s most common in areas with a high population density, such as college campuses. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, photophobia and altered mental status. They develop quickly, typically 3-7 days post exposure.
Viral Meningitis is more common than bacterial in the in United States. This type occurs more in the summer and fall months. Symptoms mimic the those of the flu and can include things such as: high fever, headache, vomiting, sleepiness, sensitivity to light and no appetite. In infants, symptoms can also include constant crying, irritability, a bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head and stiffness in a baby’s body and neck. The good news? Viral Meningitis is usually mild and often clears on its own; however, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see a doctor upon first sign of symptoms.
How it Spreads
So, how does it spread? Close contact (not just casual,) spreads the bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis. This includes kissing, coughing, sneezing, sharing utensils, glasses, food, or even towels. It’s also important to note that people can carry these bacteria without being sick, but still contagious.
Treatment and Prevention
Like with most illnesses, early treatment can help prevent serious damage. If it’s bacterial, doctors typically treat with antibiotics. For viral, treatment is mainly relieving the symptoms. Other treatments may be given, depending on how serious the case is.
Luckily, there has been a decline in the number of cases of meningitis in the past few years. Though it’s definitely not extinct, in 2016 the incident rates reached an all-time low of only 12%. How? Prevention is key.