TMH Living Well: Meningitis, serious but not common
November 20, 2015
When people hear the word meningitis, they become concerned, and rightfully so. It can be serious, especially bacterial meningitis. Fortunately, it only affects 1,000 to 1,200 people in the United States each year. Viral meningitis is more common, yet less serious. Both are spread by close physical contact, and fortunately, it usually takes more than a sneeze or a cough, such as with the flu or the common cold, to pass it. Close contact and the direct exchange of mucous, as with kissing or sharing cups, are often needed to pass the viruses and bacteria that are associated with meningitis.
The Centers for Disease Control describes meningitis as an inflammation of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. With viral meningitis, people usually get better on their own without treatment or side effects. Children younger than five years, especially newborns and those with weakened immune systems, are at a greater risk for viral meningitis, although you can get it at any age.
Symptoms of meningitisSymptoms of meningitis
Symptoms of meningitis
Symptoms often come on suddenly. Children and babies become irritable, feverish and lethargic, losing interest in eating and having trouble sleeping. Adults experience fever, headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and loss of interest in eating.
Symptoms of viral and bacterial meningitis are nearly the same, with the added risk of brain damage and hearing loss with bacterial meningitis. If you suspect meningitis, see your doctor immediately. Bacterial meningitis can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Viral meningitis usually passes on its own in seven to 10 days.
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Bacterial meningitis is spread by different bacteria, including certain strains of Group B strep, E. coli and listeria. You may have heard of outbreaks on college campuses and sports teams — that's because it spreads easiest among large groups in close proximity, and that's why it is more common during the teen and young adult years. Infants are at a higher risk than other age groups.
"If you are pregnant, know that oral or genital herpes can cause serious meningitis in newborns and infants. If you have genital herpes, you can get treatment to prevent an outbreak during pregnancy. Getting tested at 36 weeks of pregnancy and using antibiotics can reduce an infant's chance of serious infection by 50 percent," said Dr. Elise Sullivan, with TMH Medical Clinic.
Protect yourself with vaccinationsProtect yourself with vaccinations
Protect yourself with vaccinations
The most effective way to protect your family against bacterial meningitis is to get vaccinated. Vaccines for meningococcal disease — the broader term for illnesses that can cause meningitis — are recommended for all pre-teens and teens and for some children and adults who are at an increased risk.
"Meningitis can be difficult to treat; so it's best to get vaccinated," Sullivan said.
Typically, the MCV4 vaccine is given about age 12 with a booster at about age 16. A second vaccine is also available that protects against a different strain of bacteria. Many colleges require the vaccine for entrance. TMH Medical Clinic offers the MCV4 — which protects against four bacteria — to teens and others identified as at risk.
The CDC recommends all infants receive the Hib vaccine that protects against a certain type of influenza that can cause meningitis. Babies receive three doses by their first birthday. The meningococcal vaccine is recommended for some babies, not all. For more information on vaccines, visit your doctor or cdc.gov.
"Prevention starts with good hand hygiene. If you get sick and suspect meningitis, seek medical care as soon as symptoms develop," Sullivan said.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.