Why Meningitis Travels Fast and How You Can Prevent It

If you lived on campus during your college years or attended summer camp as a child , you likely were required to get a meningitis vaccine. That’s because meningitis, which is more common among children and young adults, can easily spread through coughing, sneezing or even kissing in close quarters. But what is meningitis, you wonder? And does the required vaccine prevent you from getting sick?

What Is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by a virus or a bacterium. While a viral infection is most common in the U.S., bacterial meningitis can have very serious complications. These include learning problems, hearing loss and brain damage. Even with treatment, bacterial meningitis poses a risk of death.

Fortunately, you can prevent bacterial meningitis with a vaccine. Still, some families decide against vaccinating their children, and a preventable form of meningitis remains. To learn more about prevention, see below.

The symptoms and severity of meningitis can escalate very quickly. If you or someone in your family has the signs and symptoms, seek medical care right away.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The Symptoms of Meningitis
The most common signs of meningitis include:

  • Sudden, high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck

However, these other symptoms may also be present:

  • Fatigue or extreme sleepiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Red or purple skin rash
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizures

If you or someone you know has or thinks he or she has meningitis, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention. The doctor can find out whether the disease is present and if the source is viral or bacterial. It’s important to distinguish between the two causes, because viral meningitiscan go away on its own, while bacterial meningitis is treated with intravenous antibiotics and may require intensive care. Waiting to seek treatment for bacterial meningitis can increase the risk of permanent brain damage or death. Quick diagnosis and treatment give you or your loved one a better chance for complete recovery.

Meningitis Prevention
There is good news! Many forms of meningitis can be prevented with the recommended vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , children should be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. These vaccines are safe and effective. Different vaccines are given to infants and young children, preteens and teens, and college freshmen who have not been previously vaccinated.

There are no vaccines for viral meningitis, but you can reduce your risk for infection not kissing or sharing glasses or eating utensils with someone who is sick. You should also wash your hands regularly.

Finally, if you or your family has not yet been vaccinated for meningitis, talk with your doctor. He or she can recommend the best course of prevention to keep you healthy.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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