If you are tuned into the news at all, you have probably heard of small outbreaks of meningitis among college students all across the U.S. In addition, people with compromised immune systems and even people overseas in the military are at risk as well. Meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord and the fluid that encompasses the brain.
Also known as spinal meningitis, this condition is caused by both viruses and bacteria. It is important to know whether a virus or bacteria causes meningitis because treatment can differ greatly. Viral meningitis is not as severe as bacterial meningitis and usually just has to run its course.
However, with bacterial meningitis, brain damage and even hearing loss could result from the infection. Plus, doctors have to test the spinal fluid in order to find out which bacteria is causing the meningitis so that they can accurately treat it with the right antibiotics.
Symptoms and Treatment of Meningitis
The primary symptoms of meningitis are headache, high fever and a stiff neck. In some people, they may also have a sore throat, vomiting, disorientation and sleepiness. Some people have seizures if the disease progresses or even the presentation of purplish spots on the body.
With viral meningitis, only the symptoms can be treated as the viral version of this disease cannot be cured with drugs. However, bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, based on the particular bacteria found. Treatment should be started early to avoid complications such as brain damage. In addition, the elderly as well as infants are particularly susceptible so early detection is key to a successful treatment.
Diagnosis and Contagion Factors of Meningitis
A cerebro-spinal fluid collection, also known as a spinal tap, is really the only way to accurately determine meningitis as well as if the case is viral or bacterial in nature. A sample of the spinal fluid is obtained via a needle inserted into the lower back between the vertebrae.
Bacterial meningitis is contagious and is spread through close contact. While not as contagious as a cold, you could still get meningitis from being exposed to throat or respiratory means such as coughing, sneezing and kissing. Direct contact or prolonged contact with secretions is necessary to contract this disease.
Importance of Meningitis Vaccines
There are vaccines against meningitis. Because there are several prevalent strains of bacteria that cause meningitis in the United States, there are also several types of vaccines. Meningococcal strains are the primary ones and young children automatically receive immunizations against these strains. If your child has received the Hib vaccine, then they have been inoculated. Teens and adults should also become inoculated as well.
There are two primary vaccines against bacterial meningitis that are being used for teens and adults. They cover four different types of meningococcal bacteria strains. Keep in mind that the vaccine does not 100% prevent the contraction of meningitis. However, for those who do get the disease and have had the shots, the symptoms will be relatively minor in the scheme of things. In other words, without the vaccinations, you could develop many complications with meningitis as mentioned before such as brain damage.