Danger level: High
What is it?
Meningitis is an infection of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord (which are called
ong>meninges). If not treated on time, it can lead to death.
Who gets it?
Meningitis can happen at anytime throughout life, to just about anyone, but people aged 5 and younger or 60 and older are at an increased risk.
What causes it?
Meningitis can be caused either by bacteria or a virus.
Less common than viral meningitis, it’s much more dangerous. Many germs can be responsible for this. The most common is pneumococcus.
This is more common. It’s usually mild and not lethal. The viruses that most commonly cause this are called enteroviruses – they enter the body through the mouth and travel to the brain
Meningitis – It attacks the coverings of your brain. Photo by Gaetan Lee
It’s important to remember that meningitis can be contagious, with the germs or viruses causing it spreading from person to person through coughing or sneezing or through close contact.
How does it feel?
There are 3 things that might hint at having meningitis:
- Severe headache
- A stiff neck – Especially when you try to touch your chin to your chest.
Other things that might appear include vomiting, seizures or trouble staying awake.
It’s important to know that in children or the elderly, these symptoms might not appear. Babies may just be cranky and not eat well, and the elderly might not have a severe headache and be confused instead.
How is it discovered?
In order to prove that the coverings of the brain and spinal cord are infected, a spinal tap has to be performed (the proper name for this is lumbar puncture, or LP for short). It’s done by inserting a needle through the lower back through the vertebra, until it reaches the spinal canal, from which a fluid is drawn out. That fluid is checked in the lab for features that usually appear in meningitis.
Sometimes other tests will be needed as well, such as a CT scan.
How is it treated?
In the case of bacterial meningitis, the treatment is antibiotics, and sometimes steroids. Bacterial meningitis also requires hospitalization to see that it goes away with treatment.
In the case of viral meningitis, antibiotics are not given (since they don’t work on viruses). If the disease is mild, it can be treated at home, where usually bed rest, lots of fluids and pain killers are sufficient.
What happens after treatment?
Please remember that if you suspect you’re having meningitis, it’s important to seek medical care immediately. Without treatment, bacterial meningitis is almost always fatal. Even with antibiotics and proper treatment, up to 10% may die from it, especially if it’s not treated early.
Meningitis can also leave some damage after it’s gone, such as hearing loss or seizures, as well as cognitive impairment (problems in mental functions, like intelligence, judgment, learning, memory, speech and thinking).
The bottom line – How do I avoid it?
- Make sure not to get the disease from someone infected – Avoid sharing food, utensils, glasses and other objects with them. Wash your hands often with soap.
- Vaccines – There are vaccines against pneumococcus, hemophilus influenza, and other germs which can cause meningitis. Consult your doctor about these.
- Antibiotics – Sometimes, being exposed to someone with meningitis will require you to take antibiotics. Consult your doctor to learn if you need them.