What you need to know about meningitis

Meningitis is a serious disease that can have potentially fatal consequences if left untreated.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to avoid severe complications, and it is important to recognize the symptoms if you suspect that you or someone you know has the disease.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is meningitis?

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Meningitis is an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can occur in people of any age but is most common in infants, children and young adults.

Causes

Viruses, bacteria and sometimes fungi can cause meningitis, according to the CDC.

Viral meningitis is the most common form of the infection and is usually less severe than bacterial meningitis. It is often caused by enteroviruses, a group of viruses including Echovirus, Coxsackievirus and Poliovirus. These viruses are typically spread through contact, including saliva, nasal discharge, feces or respiratory or throat secretions.

Bacterial meningitis can be fatal if not treated immediately. The most common cause of bacterial meningitis is Streptococcus pneumoniae, but other bacteria can cause meningitis, such as Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). These bacteria are usually spread through contact with respiratory secretions or close contact with someone who has the infection.

Fungal meningitis is relatively rare and typically affects people with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms

Typically. sudden flu-like symptoms are the first signs of infection, including high fever, stiff neck and headache. Additional symptoms could be nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion.

If you think your child might have meningitis, seek medical help immediately.

Treatment

Treatment for meningitis typically depends on the type. You will likely be hospitalized and given antibiotics through an IV for bacterial meningitis. To reduce swelling, you may also need other treatments, such as corticosteroids.

Viral meningitis is usually less severe and will go away on its own. However, you will likely be given antiviral medications if the case is severe.

Prevention

There are a few ways to help prevent meningitis:

  • Get vaccinated. There are vaccines available that can help protect against some of the viruses that can cause meningitis.
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands regularly, avoid close contact with people who are sick and clean surfaces that could be contaminated.
  • Don’t share personal items. By not sharing personal items like straws, silverware and make-up items like lipgloss you can reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
  • Distance yourself from infected people.
  • Stay healthy. Get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat healthy foods including lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.