What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections, and they usually get better without any lasting effects. However, some cases of meningitis are caused by bacterial infections. Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency that requires prompt treatment. In about10% of cases, the disease is fatal. Additionally, about 10% of the people who recover will have long-term complications such as deafness, brain damage, seizures, and other nervous system problems.
Who is most likely to get meningitis?
Anyone can get meningitis, but it is more common among children and people whose bodies have trouble fighting off infections—such as those with certain diseases and people whose spleens have been removed. Children under the age of five (especially babies under one year of age) have the highest risk, followed by teenagers 15 to 19 years old.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
The most common symptoms are high fever, headache, stiff neck, drowsiness, and vomiting. Other symptoms may include sensitivity to light, rapid breathing, agitation, and a purplish skin rash.
How is meningitis treated?
If the meningitis is caused by a bacterial infection, doctors may prescribe an antibiotic. Because antibiotics don’t work against viruses, they are ineffective in treating viral meningitis. Other medications and intravenous fluids can help reduce the brain swelling, shock, and seizures that accompany meningitis.
Can meningitis be prevented?
Meningitis infections spread from person to person through contact with the secretions from the nose and throat of an infected person (for example, by sharing eating utensils), so taking care not to come in contact with another person’s saliva or nasal secretions will help prevent the spread of the disease.
A vaccine is available against a specific type of meningococcal bacteria known as Serogroup C, which is responsible for about 30% to 50% of meningitis cases. The vaccine is recommended for children under five years of age, adolescents, and young adults.
If I suspect that I have meningitis, when should I see a doctor?
The following warning signs indicate that immediate medical attention is required.
In babies and toddlers:
- fever combined with cold hands and feet
- refusing food when normally hungry
- fretful, doesn’t want to be picked up or held
- pale, blotchy skin
- blank, staring expression
- drowsy, difficult to wake
- stiff neck and arched pack
- high pitched cry
In older children and adults:
- fever with cold hands and feet
- headache, especially combined with stiff neck
- joint stiffness and muscle pain
- dislike of bright lights, noise
- drowsy, difficult to wake
- confusion or delirium