Most people are totally unaware of World Meningitis Day because it doesn’t get too much air time. However, spreading awareness about this harmful disease that affects thousands of people in the U.S. is important. One of the things that makes meningitis so dangerous is its symptoms—they’re easily written off by many as the flu, thus limiting the concern for those who catch it. But if gone undetected, meningitis can be fatal.
Meningitis is caused by inflamed protective membranes around the spinal cord and brain which become infected. Bacteria or a virus infects them, causing symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, and aching joints—similar to the flu. But there are also two symptoms that people with meningitis will have as well, that don’t appear if you have the flu: stiffness in the neck and sensitivity to bright lights. In some bacterial cases, a pinprick rash may occur as well.
Since it’s World Meningitis Day, we want to spread the word about this disease that affects thousands of people.
There are two types of meningitis: bacterial and viral. Bacterial meningitis is quite rare, but can be fatal if not detected early. It has the potential to block blood vessels to the brain, potentially leading to a stroke or permanent brain damage. Some examples of bacterial meningitis are pneumococcal, which is caused by the streptococcus pneumonia bacteria that can cause pneumonia; blood poisoning (septicemia); and ear and sinus infections. Other common forms of this rare disease are meningococcal, listeria, and Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Bacterial meningitis is mainly transmitted through oral or nasal contact like kissing or sneezing and only a small percentage of the population is at risk. High risk groups include children under five and adults with weakened immune systems—adults undergoing chemotherapy or HIV treatments are more susceptible to bacterial meningitis.
Most people have an immune system that is strong enough to kill the disease. However, it’s estimated that up to 10% of the population carry meningococcal bacteria in their throats, while up to 60% carry pneumococcal. It rarely makes them sick. But if it is caught, the faster you get treatment, the better.
Viral meningitis is far more common and far less serious. It can be very hard to predict how common it is because its symptoms are so similar to the flu so it often goes unreported. Although it’s difficult to prevent, it’s relatively easy to treat.
The best way to avoid viral meningitis is by practicing good hygiene, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting rest: all things that build up your immune system. The stronger your immune system is and the cleaner your surroundings, the less chance you have of catching it. These are important tips, not just on World Meningitis Day, but throughout your everyday life.
A few tips to decrease the risk is to wash and sanitize your hands regularly; don’t share drinks or cutlery with others; wash and disinfect soiled clothing and sheets; and include foods like citrus, berries, and other antioxidant-rich foods in your diet. If you catch viral meningitis the best way to take care of it is to drink lots of fluids and rest. Do this and it should be gone in a few days.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“Meningitis,” Meningitis Research Foundation; http://www.meningitis.org/
“Meningitis,” MedlinePlus web site; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000680.htm