Why Meningitis Travels Fast and How You Can Prevent It

If you lived on campus during your college years, chances are they required that you get a meningitis vaccination. And with good reason! Not only is the disease more common among children and young adults, but the close quarters of dorm living can create a perfect storm for the disease to spread through coughing, sneezing or even kissing! But what is meningitis, you wonder? Isn’t that one of those old-timey diseases?

What Is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. A virus or a bacterium may both cause meningitis (though a viral infection is most common in the U.S). Meanwhile, bacterial meningitis can have very serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss and learning problems. As scary as it sounds, even with treatment, it can be life-threatening.

What’s more, bacterial meningitis is preventable by vaccine. However, as some families opt out of vaccinating their children, a preventable disease persists. More on prevention later!

The severity of meningitis can escalate very quickly. If you or someone in your family has the telltale signs and symptoms, don’t wait! You should seek medical care right away.
What are those signs, you ask? Check it out:

The Symptoms of Meningitis
The most common signs of meningitis include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • Fever that’s sudden and high

However, these other symptoms may be present:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue or extreme sleepiness
  • Red or purple skin rash
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light

If you or someone you know has or thinks he or she has meningitis, it’s important to try to find out as quickly as possible whether it is present and if the source is bacterial or viral. Why does that matter? Because the treatment and the severity differ depending on the cause. Viral meningitis, which isn’t as severe, usually goes away on its own. Doctors treat bacterial meningitis with intravenous antibiotics. Serious cases may require intensive care. Delayed treatment for bacterial meningitis can increase the risk of permanent brain damage or death. Prompt diagnosis and treatment give you or your loved one a better chance for complete recovery.

Meningitis Prevention
There is good news! You can prevent many forms of meningitis by getting vaccinated as recommended. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. These vaccines are safe and effective. Different vaccines are given to infants and young children, preteens and teens, and college freshmen who have not been previously vaccinated.

As for most viruses, there are no vaccines for viral meningitis, but you can reduce your risk for infection by washing your hands regularly. You should also avoid kissing or sharing glasses or eating utensils with someone who is sick.

Finally, if you or your family has not yet been vaccinated for meningitis, talk with your doctor. He or she can recommend the best course of prevention to keep you healthy.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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