Meningitis is an inflammation or infection of the tissue around the brain and spinal cord. In teens and adults, the main symptoms are headache, fever, and stiff neck. Young children may have flu-like symptoms or extreme irritability.
Viral meningitis is usually mild, but bacterial meningitis is more severe with serious consequences if it isn't treated quickly. Vaccines are available to prevent certain bacterial causes of meningitis.
Meningitis is a disease involving inflammation (swelling), or irritation, of the meninges. There are different kinds of meningitis, but most of the time it is caused by germs, especially viruses.
Meningitis gets attention because it not only makes a person feel sick, it can have lasting effects on a person's ability to think and learn. It also can cause hearing loss. But many people recover from the infection without permanent damage.
Bacteria and Viruses
Many viruses can cause viral meningitis. They include a family of viruses known as enteroviruses (say: en-TEH-row-VYE-rus-ez). Like most viruses,
enteroviruses infect your body through saliva(spit), feces (poop), and nasal discharge (snot).
This is why washing your hands after you go to the bathroom, after you sneeze, and before you eat is so important.
It's also possible to get viral meningitis as a complication ofchickenpox, but this is also very rare in healthy kids. These days, many kids are vaccinated with two shots to prevent chickenpox before starting school.
Bacterial meningitis is contagious, which means it can be passed to someone else by spit or snot. It can be spread when you sneeze or cough, when you share cups or utensils, or when you kiss someone. Vaccines are given to kids to help protect them from serious diseases like meningitis.
What Are the Symptoms of Meningitis?
Usually, someone with meningitis is very sick. Symptoms may include:
a very bad headache that won't go away
eye pain when exposed to light
nausea, or being sick to the stomach
vomiting, or throwing up
feeling very sleepy or unable to fully wake up
feeling very confused or out of it
Symptoms of meningitis can come on very quickly or take a couple of days to appear. Anyone who is ill with symptoms of meningitis needs to seek medical care right away.
Bacterial meningitis is very serious and a person will need to be in the hospital during treatment. Strong antibiotic medicine will be given through an IV (a thin tube that goes into a vein to give medicine) to get rid of the bacteria. Fluids containing glucose (sugar) and minerals may also be given through the IV to help a person recover.
Viral meningitis can also be serious, but usually is not as bad as meningitis caused by bacteria. Someone with viral meningitis may still need to be in the hospital for a few days and it may take weeks before he or she is feeling better. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so a person with viral meningitis will need lots of rest to fight off the infection.
Can Meningitis Be Prevented?
If someone gets bacterial meningitis in your neighborhood or school, doctors will want to know who was in close contact with this person.
Close contact means living with or spending a lot of time with the person, or sharing the same utensils or cups.
This is important because people who have been in close contact may need antibiotics for a few days, just in case they were infected with the bacteria, too.
The antibiotic may help prevent them from developing meningitis. But antibiotics won't prevent sickness if a virus caused the meningitis.
If you've had all your vaccinations, they will help protect you from getting meningitis.
But there's another way to prevent those germs from getting inside your body:
Wash your hands. Wash up regularly with warm, soapy water — especially before eating, after using the bathroom, and whenever your hands are dirty.
It's also smart to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Then wash your hands again.