Meningitis is a swelling of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.  It can be caused by a number of bugs such as bacteria, viruses and even fungi.  The symptoms can appear rapidly; in fact, some people become very ill within a few hours or a few days.  Early symptoms include fever, headache and irritability.  As the inflammation progresses, symptoms may include drowsiness, pale skin and muscle aches followed by confusion, cold hands and feet, neck pain and possibly rash.  If untreated, it can lead to decreased consciousness, coma and death.

Viral meningitis, also called aseptic meningitis, occurs most often in the summer and fall. There is no prevention for viral meningitis at this time, but people who are infected usually recover completely within five to 10 days.

Bacterial meningitis is less common but more serious than viral meningitis and progresses quickly, turning fatal within 48 hours.  Safe and effective vaccines exist for the main causes of bacterial meningitis and antibiotics can be used to eradicate the cause.

Fungal meningitis is another rare form of the disease but also serious. It is usually seen in people whose immune system is impaired.

As mentioned, bacterial meningitis is one of the most dangerous and preventable forms of meningitis.  Vaccines exist for three bacterial types: Meningococcal disease, Pneumococcal meningitis and Haemophilus Influenzae Type b.  While no measure will prevent disease 100% of the time, vaccination is the most effective form of preventing bacterial meningitis.  Therefore, it is important to make sure your children’s vaccinations are up to date.

Meningitis complications can be severe and can include: hearing loss, problems with memory and learning, balance issues, seizures, kidney failure and even death.  This is why quick diagnosis and treatment are essential.  Apart from symptoms mentioned above, a doctor will likely order blood tests to search for bacteria, diagnostic imaging to look for inflammation and a lumbar puncture or spinal tap.  If bacterial meningitis is suspected and/or confirmed, treatment with antibiotics will start as soon as possible for the best outcomes. So today, thank your secretary, look to stars and make sure your meningitis vaccinations are up to date.  Take care of yourselves and each other.