Meningitis is defined as inflammation of the meninges (the meninges are the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord - collectively, known as the central nervous system).
What Causes Meningitis
Meningitis is caused by:
- Other organisms
- Malignant cells
- Drugs and contrast media
- Blood (following haemorrhage of certain parts of the meninges)
The term meningitis is commonly used to describe inflammation due to infective agents such as bacteria however. It is better to describe this type of meningitis as 'Meningococcal Disease'. One kind of meningitis called 'Hib meningitis' can be prevented by a vaccination given to infants at age 2, 4, 6 and 18 months - however, this is not a common type of meningitis. 'Meningoccemia' is an infection of the blood. Both are serious infections that must be treated immediately by your physician.
What Is Meningococcal Disease?
Meningococcal diseases are infections caused by a bacteria (germs) called meningococcus. These microorganisms may reach the meninges either by direct extension form the ears, nasopharynx, a head injury, via a congenital defect (birth defect) or via spread in the bloodstream.
How Can You Get Meningococcal Disease?
Meningococcal bacteria are around us all the time. Healthy people may have them in their nose or throat. Usually this does not cause disease. In some rare cases, the germ can get into the blood or brain, and cause serious illness.
This germ is carried in saliva or droplets from the nose of an infected person. The germ can be passed from person to person by sneezing, coughing, and kissing, or sharing cigarettes, food, drinks and other things that contain saliva. From the time the germ gets, into a person's mouth or nose, it may take from 2 to 10 days for the person
to become sick, usually taking 3 to 4 days.
Who Can Get It?
Anyone can get the germ that causes meningococcal disease, but only a very few people will actually get sick. Many people will get the germ when they are children and will develop protection by the time they are teenagers. These people will have life-long protection.
Many healthy people carry the bacteria in their nose or throat for long periods of time. They may be able to spread the germ to others, but it does not cause them any harm. It is only rarely that the germ causes the serious disease.
When people have close contact with an infected person, they are at greater risk. This can happen in a family, daycare, or dormitory setting. Usually there is no increased spread within schools or at recreational or social events. Casual contact such as being in the same classroom or sitting at a table with an infected person does not increase the risk of infection.
What Are the Signs of Meningococcal Disease?
- Severe headache, vomiting, and stiff neck are the most common signs of meningococcal disease.
- High fever and irritability are signs in a very young child.
- If there is infection in the blood, a purplish skin rash that looks like bruising may also occur. By the time this rash appears the infection is very serious and the person must be treated as soon as possible.
If meningococcal disease is suspected in any person immediate help by a physician be sort. The disease has a rapid onset and when left untreated is lethal. The death rate being around 15 percent.
How Is It Treated
Hospitalization is required for meningococcal disease. Intravenous antibiotics are used as well as many urgent tests carried out. This is to assess the changes in the fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord as well as to determine the exact bacteria involved. Other medications may be necessary to treat symptoms such as headaches or convulsions.
The sooner the diagnosis and treatment the greater the chance o