#This article has been kindly provided by Health Leader
Meningitis? yes, it can kill you, but, no, it doesn’t have to. While there are good reasons the very word “meningitis” strikes terror, there are also good reasons why such terror is mostly needless. All of those reasons essentially lie within what meningitis is, what it isn’t and how it is transmitted or contracted.
Meningitis, sometimes called “spinal meningitis,” is an infection of the lining of a person's brain and spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds these tissues. Of bacterial, viral and fungal, the three principal categories of meningitis, it is primarily bacterial that can cause the most damage or even death. Today, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis are the leading causes of bacterial meningitis.
“All meningitis is not created equal, and not all meningitis equates with meningococcal, which is the one of most concern,” says Charles D. Ericsson, M.D., professor of medicine and head of Clinical Infectious Diseases at UT-Houston Medical School. He sees meningitis as “an ongoing educational issue at multiple levels.” Common Misconceptions “The fundamental misconception is that if you even get near it, meningitis will eat you up alive,” says Ericsson. “Probably the biggest misperception is that it is extremely easy to catch, but it is not. Truly intimate contact is required for exposure.” As examples, he cites a family member in close personal contact with a meningitis patient or “a toddler in daycare where saliva is all over everywhere. Simply being in a room with a person who has meningitis is not an exposure.”
Antibiotics can prevent some types of bacterial meningitis from spreading and infecting others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta cites high fever, headache, and stiff neck among common meningitis symptoms in anyone older than two years. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take a day or two.
Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (discomfort in looking at light), confusion, and sleepiness, says CDC, adding that, in newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms may be absent or difficult to detect.
As the disease progresses, patients of any age may have seizures. Ways Meningitis Can Spread
Exchange of respiratory and throat secretions by coughing or kissing.
Close or prolonged contact with a patient with meningococcal bacterial meningitis.
People in the same household or day-care center, or anyone with direct contact with a patient's oral secretions, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend.
freshmen, especially those living in dormitories.
Less contagious than the common cold or the flu, meningitis is not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.
People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningitis should consult their doctor about receiving antibiotics preventatively. Vaccines Available and Safe
Vaccines against some meningitis bacteria strains are very safe and highly effective, says CDC. Another vaccine against four strains of N. meningitidis is not routinely used in the United States, but is sometimes used to control some U.S. outbreaks.
A call to a travel medicine clinic can advise travelers whether getting meningococcal vaccine, preferably at least one week before departure, is recommended for their overseas destination.
Vaccines to prevent some forms of meningitis can also prevent others. A vaccine to prevent a common cause of pneumonia can prevent one kind of bacterial meningitis.
CDC recommends pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine for all persons over 65 years of age and for younger persons at least 2 years old with certain chronic medical problems. Strong Symptoms Leave No Guesswork
Ericsson says that, as a rule, symptoms can send a person to a doctor even before suspecting meningitis.
“Bacterial meningitis is usually flamboyant in its presentations. You’ll have the worst headache ever in your life, usually with a high fever,” Ericsson says, adding:
"Just flat rapid, meningococcal meningitis can kill in a matter of hours. If you have headache and high fever that are very uncharacteristic of you, get to a doctor or emergency room immediately. Seek urgent medical care.” Spinal Tap Still Best Test
Ericsson and Dr. Lynnette Mazur, professor of pediatrics at UT-Houston Medical School, agree that a lumbar puncture, popularly known as a spinal tap, is the only surefire way to diagnose or rule out meningitis.
Mazur, also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on environmental health, says lumbar puncture is warranted “if you are suspicious for any reason, especially in an infant. Get any child two months or under with a fever (100.4 or higher) to a physician without delay.”
Especially given the lethal potential of meningococcal meningitis, Mazur urges parents to embrace the one diagnostic tool that could save their child’s life.
“Some parents are hesitant about permitting a lumbar puncture,” often in groundless fear of resultant nerve damage, Mazur says. “While there is a lot of preparation, the actual puncture takes less than a minute, removing a minimal amount of a fluid?usually no more than a teaspoonful?that the body is always producing.”
Prevention, of course, is always preferable to cure.
Among key preventive measures, Mazur lists:
“It is really important that a pregnant mom share information about any infectious diseases or sexually transmitted diseases she has experienced, especially herpes,” says Mazur. Summer is Viral Meningitis Season
She notes that summer tends to become a season for viral meningitis, which is usually self-limited and resolves on its own.
A notable exception is the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus, which can produce a serious, even fatal form of brain swelling, known more commonly as encephalitis.
“Presently there is no known preventive for West Nile except not to get bitten,” she says, citing effective applications of no more than 10 percent DEET mosquito repellent to children or 100 percent DEET to clothing, netting and tents to prevent the bites.
All meningitis cases must be reported to state or local health departments to assure follow-up of close contacts and to recognize outbreaks
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