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Your Family and Understanding Meningitis

Meningitis is an infection that results from inflammation around the brain and spinal cord coverings (or membranes). It occurs most often in children (including teenagers) and young adults, though it can pose a risk to some older adults who have weakened immune systems.

There are two primary types of meningitis: viral and bacterial. Both types are contagious and have germs that are passed from coughing, sneezing, and close contact.

Viral meningitis is quite common and rarely results in a serious condition. In some cases, however, it can cause a prolonged fever or seizures.

Bacterial meningitis can be life threatening, and fortunately it is not nearly as common. This type of meningitis must be treated as quickly as possible in order to avoid brain damage or death.

Symptoms

For teenagers and young adults, the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff and painful neck
  • Seizures

Children, older adults, and people who have other medical problems may experience the following symptoms:

  • Older adults and people with other medical conditions may only experience a fever and a mild headache.
  • Babies may refuse to eat, have a rash, and be very cranky.
  • Young children may have a cough or have difficulty breathing. They may also exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Some other symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Leg pain
  • Rash
  • Difficulty waking up

It is important for anyone with symptoms of meningitis to see a doctor as soon as possible so that a complete course of testing can be completed. This is the only way to diagnose meningitis, and timing can be a critical factor, particularly with bacterial meningitis.

Treatment

With viral meningitis, patients sometimes improve on their own within one or two weeks. Of course, antibiotics are not effective with viruses, so the best course of action is to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take some over the counter pain medication for body aches and fever reduction.

With bacterial meningitis, intravenous antibiotics have to be administered as quickly as possible. In many cases, doctors will perform a spinal tap so that they can better analyze the type of bacteria that has caused meningitis to develop. In addition to antibiotics, doctors may also prescribe other treatments for shock, dehydration, brain swelling, or convulsions.

If any fluid has accumulated between the brain and the surrounding membranes, it will probably have to be drained or surgically removed.

Prevention

Bacteria or viruses that cause meningitis can be transferred from person to person through sneezing, coughing, kissing, or sharing a toothbrush, cigarette, or eating utensils. People are also at an increased risk if they live or work with someone who has this disease.

To help prevent the spread of meningitis, take the following steps:

  1. Cover your mouth and nose – any time you need to sneeze or cough, always remember to do this so you will not spread any germs.
  2. Maintain your immune system – to keep yourself healthy, get plenty of sleep each night, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet.
  3. Wash your hands – everyone should do this regularly throughout each day, but particularly before eating, after using the bathroom, and after being in crowded areas.

By Andrew V.V.

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