There are two types of meningitis: viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. In most instances, viral meningitis is not a fatal disease. The patient will fully recover within a week by resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking OTC pain relievers. Bacterial meningitis, however, can be deadly if not treated promptly.

The symptoms for viral and bacterial meningitis are often the same, including a high fever and a stiff neck. That’s why, for all cases of suspected meningitis, it's critically important to head for the emergency room when symptoms first appear.

Viral and Bacterial Meningitis Symptoms

The most common meningitis symptoms for people over the age of 2 include:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures

In infected babies and children under the age of 2, these symptoms may not appear — or may be difficult to detect. When infected, babies and young children may appear lethargic or be irritable, and they may vomit or not eat well. They may also have seizures as the disease progresses.

Bacterial Meningitis: A Quick Mover

Bacterial meningitis can progress rapidly, often within hours of the first symptoms, and if not quickly diagnosed and treated can cause serious long-term complications. For every hour treatment is delayed, the death rate increases by 3 percent, says Aaron E. Glatt, MD, president and chief executive officer of New Island Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., and spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America.

Each year nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis — the most prevalent type of bacterial meningitis — and between 10 percent and 15 percent of those cases are fatal. Among those who survive meningococcal meningitis, some 20 percent suffer long-term problems, including brain damage, kidney disease, or limb amputations.

"You should be aware of meningitis symptoms, and if you experience any of the symptoms, see your doctor right away," says Tom Skinner, spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The earlier someone begins treatment, the better their chance for recovery."

How Viral and Bacterial Meningitis Spread

Both bacterial and viral meningitis are contagious, although neither is as easily spread as the flu or the common cold. The bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis are generally spread through close contact with an infected person's respiratory and throat secretions, through coughing or kissing or by sharing food or drink.

Another both types of meningitis can be spread is through contact with an infected person's stool — a reason why young children who aren’t toilet-trained, or their caregivers, can become infected.

Bacterial meningitis is especially of concern for college students, particularly those living in crowded dorms. Nearly 30 percent of all U.S. cases of bacterial meningitis are among teens and young adults aged 15 to 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all teens get vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis (the type caused by Neisseria meningitides bacteria), and many colleges require this vaccination.

Young children, particularly those in day-care centers, and military personnel — who live in close quarters in military barracks — are also at increased risk of meningitis, as are people with a compromised immune system.

Infected Persons May Not Have Symptoms

Not everyone who has been infected with a meningitis-causing virus or bacteria will develop meningitis. About 10 percent of the population in the United States carry the bacteria in the back of their throat for months at a time without actually becoming sick themselves. It only becomes a problem when the bacteria are unknowingly passed to another person who is more susceptible to it and becomes infected.

You cannot know if a person is a carrier of meningitis-causing bacteria. But if you have been in close contact with a person recently diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, call your doctor immediately. You may need to take preventative antibiotics to prevent developing, and further spreading, bacterial meningitis.

This section created and produced exclusively by the editorial staff of © 2009; all rights reserved.

Meningitis Treatment

Meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (the meninges), can be caused by either a virus or by bacteria. With the more common viral type of the illness, also called aseptic meningitis, the treatment is to stay in bed for a few days, drink a lot of fluids, and take OTC medication.

Bacterial meningitis is rare — but it's a potential killer. Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics, but treatment must start within hours. Nearly 3,000 cases of bacterial meningitis are seen annually in the United States. Of those, 10 percent to 15 percent of the cases are fatal, while a high percentage of survivors are left with a permanent disability. In extreme cases and if not diagnosed early, bacterial meningitis can cause brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and gangrene of the extremities requiring amputations.

Bacterial Meningitis Symptoms: Not Everyone Gets Sick

The viruses that cause viral meningitis initially infect body fluids like saliva and nasal mucus. This is often how bacterial meningitis begins, too.

"Most people get infected and don't know about it because their bodies develop antibodies and the disease doesn't progress," explains Nathan Litman, MD, director of pediatric infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and a professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "For those who don't develop immunity, particularly young children, the disease can get into the blood."

With bacterial meningitis, the disease spreads sporadically, but those in close contact with an infected person have an increased chance of contracting the illness. "Person-to-person contact is the most common way bacterial meningitis is spread, with family members and others with intimate contact, such as boyfriends and girlfriends, having a 600 times greater chance of getting the disease than the rest of the population," says Dr. Litman. "However, sitting on the bus next to someone would not be significant exposure, nor would sitting in a classroom."

In most cases, it takes between three to seven days for symptoms to develop, and infected persons become contagious three days after the initial exposure.

People who are less able to fight infections, such as the elderly, young children, and those with HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders are more susceptible.

Bacterial Meningitis Treatment

Patient are monitored closely in the intensive care unit and isolated to prevent the disease from spreading. When the doctor suspects bacterial meningitis in someone age 1 month to age 50, high doses of antibiotics are given intravenously. Breathing support may also be needed. Fluids are also given intravenously to prevent dehydration, and medications to maintain blood pressure are often given in conjunction with antibiotics.

Bacterial Meningitis Prevention: Vaccines

There are two kinds of meningococcal vaccines available to prevent meningococcal meningitis. Each can help prevent four of the five known types of meningococcus bacteria circulating in the United States. However, Type B meningococcus, which causes a significant proportion of cases, is not covered by either vaccine. This means the vaccines cannot be 100 percent effective in preventing meningococcal meningitis.

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) is used for people 2 through 55 years old. This is currently included in vaccination schedules for children ages 11 to 18. A recent study found that the number of meningitis cases reported has dropped 30 percent overall since the vaccine's approval in 2000, while the rate decreased 64 percent in the sub-group of younger children and 54 percent in the sub-group of those older than 65.
  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) is given to people older than 55.

Adults generally do not receive the vaccine unless exposed to someone with the disease or if they plan to travel overseas to particular regions; some countries, particularly in Africa, experience large, periodic epidemics. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to be effective.

Meningitis: Proactive Treatment

Someone who has come into close contact with a person who has meningitis should begin antibiotics immediately to kill any meningococcus already in the body. A meningococcal vaccination may also be recommended after such an exposure for people age 2 or older, particularly if there is a known outbreak in the area.

If meningitis is suspected, see a doctor immediately. Early diagnosis is key to preventing long-term effects from meningitis, and possible death.

Meningitis Info : kidsgrow
Source : Everyday Health
By Hedy Marks, MPH
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

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