What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the membranes protecting the brain and spinal cord; it is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but can also be caused by but can be a result of injury, cancer, or certain drugs. The severity and treatment of meningitis will differ based on whether the illness is caused by a virus or bacterium. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, or even death. Some types of meningitis can be prevented by a vaccine.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms may not be the same for every person. The more common symptoms are fever, severe headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to bright lights, drowsiness or confusion, and nausea or vomiting.
Is viral meningitis a serious disease? Viral meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in persons with normal immune systems. Usually, the symptoms last from 7 to 10 days and the person recovers completely. Often the symptoms of viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis are the same. For that reason, if a student has these symptoms, he/she should go to the Student Health Center or other healthcare provider for assessment and treatment.
How is viral meningitis treated?
No specific treatment for viral meningitis exists at this time. Most patients recover completely on their own, and doctors often will recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, and medicine to relieve fever and headache.
Is viral meningitis contagious?
The viruses that cause viral meningitis are contagious. However, most people exposed to the viruses causing meningitis will not develop the disease. They may have no symptoms or develop only a cold or rash with low-grade fever. Typically, less than 1 out of 1,000 persons infected actually develop meningitis. Therefore, if you are around someone who has viral meningitis, you have a moderate chance of becoming infected but a very small chance of developing meningitis.
How is the virus spread?
Enteroviruses, the most common cause of viral meningitis, are most often spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions such as saliva, sputum or nasal mucus. This usually happens by shaking hands with an infected person or touching something they have handled, and then rubbing your own nose, mouth or eyes. The incubation period is usually between 3 and 7 days from the time you are infected until you develop symptoms. You can usually spread the virus to someone else beginning about 3 days after you are infected until about 10 days after you develop symptoms.
How can I reduce my chances of becoming infected?
Because most persons who are infected with enteroviruses do not become sick, it can be difficult to prevent the spread of the virus. If you are in contact with someone who has viral meningitis, however, the most effective method of prevention is to wash your hands thoroughly and often.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually appear within 5 days of exposure and include high fever, chills, headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, stiff neck or back, and abdominal, back and extremity pain. Symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 or 2 days. These symptoms, particularly in the early stages, may resemble common upper respiratory ailments such as the cold or flu. If a student experiences progression of cold symptoms to more severe symptoms, including a persistent and severe fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, extreme physical weakness, and a purplish rash, he or she should immediately contact the Student Health Center or his/her healthcare provider for assessment and treatment.
Is bacterial meningitis contagious?
Bacterial meningitis is contagious; however, it is not easily transmittable. Indirect or casual contact (such as being in the same room with someone who is infected) is not enough to cause transmission of bacterial meningitis. Direct contact with someone who has bacterial meningitis does increase the likelihood of being exposed to it. This includes direct exposure to oral or nasal secretions, which result from the coughing or sneezing of an infected person. Therefore, good hygiene practices help prevent its transmission. Do not share eating or drinking utensils.
Who needs preventive antibiotics to protect against bacterial meningitis?
Persons who have had recent intimate or direct exposure to someone with meningococcal disease may be at increased risk for contracting meningococcal disease and should receive prophylactic medication. Intimate or direct exposure is through kissing, sharing eating utensils or glassware, or droplet contamination with nose or throat secretions from the infected individual.
Can meningitis be treated?
Unlike viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis can be treated through the use of antibiotic therapies. Students with persistent symptoms they are unsure about should contact the Student Health Center or visit their doctor.
The Student Health Center staff stresses the importance of being informed about this health issue. Students with any concerns about the effect of bacterial meningitis on their health and well-being should not hesitate to contact the health center for information and clarification of their concerns.
A vaccine exists that protects against four of the five serogroups of bacterial meningitis. It does not protect against serogroup B, which accounts for approximately 32% of all cases in the 15 – 24-year-old age group. The vaccine produces protective antibodies in 7-10 days and is effective for 3 – 5 years. Adverse reactions are mild and infrequent, and include pain and redness at the site of the injection.
For more information about the meningitis vaccine, talk to your physician or visit the Centers for Disease Control website.
As of January 1, 2004, all postsecondary educational institutions in Georgia are required to provide information on meningococcal disease and vaccination to each newly admitted freshman or matriculated student residing in campus housing (Official Code of Georgia Annotated 31-12-3.2).
Meningococcal disease is a serious disease that can lead to death within only a few hours of onset: 1 in 10 cases is fatal and 1 in 7 survivors of the disease is left with a severe disability, such as loss of a limb, mental retardation, paralysis, deafness or seizures. Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection caused by Neisseria meningitis and occurs when these bacteria, which can live harmlessly in the nose and throat of healthy people, invade the tissues or bloodstream of the body. Meningococcemia occurs when N. meningitidis enters the bloodstream, meningitis occurs when the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord is invaded, and pneumonia occurs when the bacteria infects the lungs.
Meningococcal disease is a contagious but largely preventable infection of the spinal cord fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Meningococcal bacteria are spread from person-to-person by direct contact or intimate exposure with an infected person’s oral or nasal secretions, such as saliva or respiratory droplets. Intimate or direct exposure is through kissing, sharing eating utensils or glassware. Fortunately, the bacteria are not as contagious as the common cold and does not spread by being in the same room or breathing the same air as an infected person. The bacteria are not transmitted by routine contact in classrooms, restaurants, bars and restrooms where an infected person has been.
Approximately 5 to 10% of the general population carries the meningococcal bacteria in the nose and throat in a harmless state. This carrier state may last for days or months and seems to give those individuals who harbor meningococci in their upper respiratory tract some protection from actually developing the disease state.
Scientific evidence suggests that college students living in residence hall facilities are at a moderately increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease. The incidence of meningococcal meningitis has increased since the early 1990s, including cases at U.S. colleges and universities. Recent data also show students living in residence halls, particularly first-year students, have an increased risk for the disease.
Data suggests that certain social behaviors, such as exposure to passive and active smoking, bar patronage and excessive alcohol consumption, may increase students’ risk for contracting the disease.
Immunization against meningococcal disease will decrease the risk of the disease. A vaccine is currently available at the Student Health Center, which protects against four of the five serogroups of meningococcal meningitis. It does not protect against serogroup B that accounts for approximately 32% of all cases in the 15 – 24-year-old age group. The vaccine produces protective antibodies in 7-10 days and is effective for three to five years. Adverse reactions are mild and infrequent, and include pain and redness at the site of the injection.
Students should be aware of common symptoms of meningitis, including stiff neck, headache, fever, sensitivity to light, sleepiness, confusion, and seizures. Meningococcal blood infection causes fever and rash. Anyone exhibiting symptoms should see a healthcare provider even if they had the vaccine.