Meningitis is derived from the term membrane inflammation. Bacterial meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the meninges surrounding your brain and spinal cord. It is a very serious infection resulting in over 300 deaths every year in the US alone. It was discovered by William Osler.
As the name suggests bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria. There are a number of different types of bacterium that can cause meningitis, e.g. Haemophilus influenza b (Hib), Neisseria meningitidis (commonly known as meningococcal) and Streptococcus pneumoniae. The bacteria are commonly spread by close contact with an infected person. Other ways to contract the infection include; ear infections, nasal infections and skull fractures. Most of the time the bacteria can remain in a person and the person will not get meningitis but in rare instances the bacteria can break the bodies defences and infect the area around the spinal cord. This causes the area to become swollen and inflamed.
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Once a person is infected it can take as little as 3 hours for symptoms to come about. Common signs that a person over the age of 2 has contracted meningitis are:
· Stiff neck
· High fever
· Loss of appetite
· Rash near armpits, hands or feet)
· Sensitivity to light
In the case of newborns or young babies, symptoms are much less obvious. Listlessness, sleepiness, lack of appetite and vomiting can be possible warnings of infection. A purplish rash may appear with meningococcal. If any of these signs appear a person should immediately seek medical attention since if the disease is left unchecked it can cause neurological damage, hearing loss, paralysis or death.
Fortunately meningitis can be fairly successfully treated if detected early with a variety of antibiotics. However there are also a number of vaccines out that will prevent you from contracting it at all. Hib has many vaccines that are very safe and effective. Newborns should receive a number of these vaccines within 6 months of birth as they are at a very susceptible age. There are also vaccines for four out of the five strains of meningococcal but these are not widely available. The Streptococcus pneumoniae strain also has a vaccine available, which people over the age of 65 should receive, as they are also very susceptible.
There are many other simple things one can do to avoid contracting meningitis.
When travelling to a foreign county it is a good idea to check to see if a meningitis vaccine is recommended in that area, if so it should be received at least a week before departure. Simple hygiene is also one of the best ways to prevent infection. Washing your hands properly, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze and not sharing things like straws or cups are all good precautions as well as keeping a healthy life style which helps boost you immune system.
Currently virtually all of the research being done on meningitis is centred on developing better vaccines. A lot of effort is concentrated on developing stronger vaccines for the meningococcal virus, as it is one of the leading types of meningitis in the world. However, recently research efforts are being overviewed, as perhaps there may be different areas of meningitis that should be looked at,
For people who are looking for information on meningitis or those who need support there are 24-hour help lines available, one on one counselling and perhaps in your area there may be community help groups available. The Meningitis-trust organisation provides many resources and support for sufferers/carers of this disease.
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