What is meningitis?
Meningitis is a common name for infections that take place in the membranes (called meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by viruses and by bacteria. One of the most serious forms of meningitis
is caused by bacteria known as meningococci.
Meningococcal Disease and Meningitis
An infection with meningococcal bacteria causes a serious, potentially fatal infection called meningococcal disease. You may have heard it referred to as bacterial meningitis.
Meningococcal disease can affect the meninges, causing meningitis. It can also cause a very serious condition called sepsis (also known as blood poisoning).
Each year, about 3000 people in the United States become infected with the
bacteria, and as many as 1 in 10 of those people die.
As deadly as meningococcal disease can be, most cases in the United States (up to 83 percent of cases in adolescents and young adults) could potentially be prevented by a single vaccination.
Another form of meningitis is caused by a virus. Viral meningitis is serious,
but usually not life-threatening. Most patients with viral meningitis get better
on their own in 7 to 10 days.
Who gets meningitis?
Even people who are usually healthy can get meningitis. However, data from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that the risk of getting meningitis increases in teens and young adults.
How does a person catch meningitis?
Although meningitis is uncommon, a person can catch it by having close personal contact with a person who is sick with the disease. There are also people who can carry the bacteria in their nose and throat but never become sick. Contact
with these carriers can also cause someone to become infected with meningitis.
Experts believe that some behaviors can put people at greater risk for getting meningitis.
Living in close quarters, such as college dormitories
Being in crowded situations for prolonged periods of time
Sharing drinking glasses, water bottles, or eating utensils
Smoking or being exposed to smoke
Activities that make people run-down and may weaken the immune system, such as
staying out late and having irregular sleeping patterns
How can a person prevent meningitis?
While there isn’t a way to be 100 percent protected, you can help reduce the
risk of getting meningitis by avoiding the behaviors that spread it. There is also a vaccination that can help prevent it. Ask your child’s health-care provider about how to protect your child.
How is meningitis treated?
A person with meningitis needs to be seen by a health-care provider immediately.
If you think that someone you know has meningitis, get that person in for emergency care right away. If doctors suspect a patient has meningitis, they will give that person strong antibiotic medicine through an intravenous (IV) tube straight into their bloodstream.
How can meningococcal disease affect a person?
Even with treatment, meningococcal disease can kill an otherwise healthy young
person in 48 hours or less. The severe swelling in the brain and spinal cord, and sepsis (also known as blood poisoning) can lead to:
Amputation of limbs, fingers, or toes
Emotional and psychological problems including anxiety, depression, difficulty working, and more
The lasting effects of meningococcal disease can change a person’s life forever.
That’s why it’s so important to protect people from this illness.