In my last article, ”Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Respiratory Syncytial Virus” we learned that Respiratory Syncytial Virus is a common virus that affects individuals of all ages but it is most common among infants and children. For most adults and healthy children, RSV causes symptoms that are similar to those of a regular cold. Unfortunately, in infants, RSV can be much more serious leading to other serious lung complications.
It is a very contagious virus that is spread through droplets when someone who is infected sneezes, coughs or blows through his/her nose. RSV can also be spread through contact with infected items and/or surfaces. The virus can survive for hours on hands, table tops and clothing. Because RSV is a virus, there are no medications that can be used to treat it. Care of an infant with RSV involves treating the effects of the virus on the respiratory system. The best way to prevent RSV is through good handwashing. Today I would like to move onto another childhood illness called Meningitis
What Is Meningitis?
According to Health Line (https://www.healthline.com/health/how-contagious-meningitis#Overview1) Meningitis is a swelling of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. “It can be caused by fungi, parasites, or even injury. Most often, it’s caused by viral or bacterial infection. The swelling caused by meningitis generally triggers symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html) stated that there are several types of meningitis:
- Bacterial meningitis: Meningitis caused by bacteria can be deadly and requires immediate medical attention. Vaccines are available to help protect against some kinds of bacterial meningitis.
- Viral Meningitis: Meningitis caused by viruses is serious but often is less severe than bacterial meningitis. People with normal immune systems who get viral meningitis usually get better on their own. There are vaccines to prevent some kinds of viral meningitis.
- Fungal Meningitis: Meningitis caused by fungi is rare, but people can get it by inhaling fungal spores from the environment. People with certain medical conditions, like diabetes, cancer, or HIV, are at higher risk of fungal Meningitis.
- Parasitic Meningitis: Various parasites can cause meningitis or can affect the brain or nervous system in other ways. Overall, parasitic meningitis is much less common than viral and bacterial meningitis.
- Amebic Meningitis: Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a rare and devastating infection of the brain caused by Naegleria fowleri. Naegleria fowleri is a free-living microscopic ameba that lives in warm water and soil.
- Non-infectious Meningitis: Sometimes cancers, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), certain drugs, head injury, and brain surgery can cause meningitis.
The two main types of meningitis that I will cover in this post are Viral Meningitis and Bacterial Meningitis.
Bacterial Meningitis is a result of bacteria entering the bloodstream and traveling to the brain and spinal cord. According to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350508) bacteria can also invade the meninges due to ear or sinus infections, a skull fracture or in rare cases after some surgeries.
The following are the most common bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus): Most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the US. It causes pneumonia, ear or sinus infections.
- Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus): Commonly causes upper respiratory infection. It can cause meningococcal meningitis, is highly contagious, and primarily affects teenagers and young adults.
- Haemophilus influenzae (haemophilus): Was once the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children but with a new vaccine, the number of cases have reduced significantly.
- Listeria monocytogenes (listeria): This bacteria can be found in unpasteurized cheeses, hot dogs and luncheon meats. Pregnant women, newborns, older adults and those with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible.
Bacterial Meningitis Symptoms:
According to Health Line bacterial meningitis symptoms develop suddenly. The following are symptoms of bacterial meningitis:
- Altered mental status
- A sensitivity to light
- A headache
- A fever
- A stiff neck
It is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention if you experience the above symptoms. BACTERIA MENINGITIS IS DEADLY
How Is Bacterial Meningitis Diagnosed?:
The doctor will conduct a physical examination, looking for a purple or red rash on the skin, checking if you have neck stiffness and examining hip and knee flexion. Per Cleveland Clinic (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/meningitis) he/she will have to analyze your spinal fluid. For this, a Spinal Tap is required. He/she may also order tests to analyze the blood, urine and mucus from the nose and throat.
How Is Bacterial Meningitis Treated?:
Cleveland Clinic stated that bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics. In some cases, doctors may “prescribe a general intravenous antibiotic with a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation even before all the test results are in. Once the specific bacteria is identified, the antibiotic may be changed to the most effective one. Because the patient may have lost a lot of fluids due to sweating, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite, another goal of treatment will be to replenish these lost fluids."
Other Facts About Bacterial Meningitis:
The following are some other facts provided by Cleveland Clinic:
- Despite a 10% death rate from bacterial meningitis, most people recover if the disease is diagnosed correctly and treated promptly.
- There can be complications with Bacterial Meningitis. If treatment is not undertaken immediately, there may be permanent damage. Seizures, mental impairment, and paralysis may be life-long.
- People who have bacterial meningitis should encourage anyone with whom they have come into close contact with to seek preventive treatment. Casual contact should not result in passing on the disease.
- There is a vaccine available to prevent bacterial meningitis.
Viral (Aseptic) Meningitis is an infection of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord that is caused by a virus. It is more common than bacterial meningitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/viral.html) Viral Meningitis is often less severe than bacterial meningitis and most people are able to recover on their own without treatment. But the CDC stated that anyone who has symptoms of meningitis should see a doctor right away because some types of meningitis can be extremely serious. Babies and people with weakened immune systems are the most likely to have severe illness from viral meningitis.
What Causes Viral Meningitis?:
The following viruses can cause viral meningitis according to the CDC:
- Non-polio enterovirus: the most common cause of viral meningitis in the United States, especially from late spring to fall when these viruses spread most often. However, only a small number of people who get infected with enteroviruses will actually develop meningitis.
- Mumps virus
- Herpesviruses, including , herpes simplex viruses, and varicella-zoster virus (which causes chickenpox and shingles)
- Measles virus
- Influenza virus
- Arboviruses, such as West Nile virus
- Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus
What Are the Symptoms of Viral Meningitis?:
According to DR Weil (https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/disease-disorders/meningitis-viral/) Viral Meningitis symptoms may develop over several hours or even days of contact and is often mistaken for the flu. The following are the classic symptoms:
- High fever
- Headache (that can be severe)
- Stiff neck
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
- Light sensitivity
- Decreased appetite
- Rarely seizures
Infants and newborns they may not exhibit the classic signs and symptoms but instead may exhibit the following:
- Cry inconsolably
- Have excessive sleepiness or irritability
- A poor suck or decreased feeding
- A bulging fontanelle (soft spot on top of the baby’s head)
- Are often difficult to comfort and may even cry harder when held
How Is Viral Meningitis Diagnosed?:
According to the Cleveland Clinic the doctor will first want to eliminate the possibilities of other illness and may order a spinal tap, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan. The spinal tap will check the spinal fluid for an increase in white blood cells and the presence of bacteria.
How Is Viral Meningitis Treated?:
Because Viral Meningitis is a viral disorder, antibiotics can’t cure it. Most cases will improve on their own in several weeks. Treatment of mild cases usually include the following according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Bed rest
- Plenty of fluids
- Over-the-counter pain medications to help reduce fever and relieve body aches.
In some cases the doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce swelling in the brain and an anticonvulsant medication to control seizures. Per Mayo Clinic if a herpes virus caused the meningitis, an antiviral medication is available.
Facts About Viral Meningitis:
Meningitis Now (https://www.meningitisnow.org/meningitis-explained/what-is-meningitis/types-and-causes/viral-meningitis/) listed the following facts about viral meningitis:
- Thousands of cases occur every year. Anyone can get viral meningitis but it is most common in babies and young children
- The symptoms of viral meningitis can be very similar to those of bacterial meningitis, so it is essential to seek urgent medical help if concerned
- Many different viruses can cause meningitis; enteroviruses are the most common cause
- Viral meningitis is not generally considered to be contagious; contact with someone who has the illness does not usually increase the risk of disease to others. Linked cases of viral meningitis are extremely unusual and almost all cases occur alone
- There is no specific treatment for most cases of viral meningitis. Patients need to be hydrated with fluids, given painkillers and allowed to rest in order to recover. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. However, in some instances, antibiotics may be started on admission to hospital because the cause of meningitis is not known. Antibiotics are usually discontinued once viral meningitis is diagnosed.
- Although most people will make a full recovery, the recovery process can be slow. Some can be left with serious and life-changing after-effects
- After-effects can include headaches, exhaustion and memory loss
- Although there aren’t vaccines to prevent most cases of viral meningitis, the MMR vaccine, which is given as part of the UK routine immunisation schedule, protects against measles, mumps and rubella viral infections. Prior to the use of this vaccine, mumps was a common cause of viral meningitis in children
Complications of Meningitis
Meningitis complications can be severe especially for children who have the disease without treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic the longer you or your child has meningitis without treatment, the greater risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage. The following are possible complications from meningitis:
- Hearing loss
- Memory difficulty
- Learning disabilities
- Brain damage
- Gait problems
- Kidney failure
Per Mayo Clinic “with prompt treatment, even patients with severe meningitis can have good recovery.”
Risk Factors for Meningitis
The following are some of the risk factors for meningitis according to Health Line
- Compromised Immunity: caused by HIV, AIDs, autoimmune disorders, chemotherapy, organ or bone marrow transplants.
- Community Living: Meningitis is easily spread when people live in close quarters such as: college dormitories, barracks, boarding schools, day care centers.
- Pregnancy: pregnant women have an increased risk of listeriosis which is an infection caused by the Listeria bacteria. Infection can spread to the unborn child.
- Age: all ages are at risk but there are certain age groups that have a higher risk: children under the age of 5 who are at an increased risk of viral meningitis and infants who are at a higher risk of bacterial meningitis.
- Working with Animals: farm works and others who work with animals have an increased risk of infection with Listeria.
How to Prevent Meningitis
Huffingtonpost (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/meningitis-rare-but-potentially-fatal_us_58fb4d6ae4b0f02c3870ea8f) listed the following methods to prevent meningitis:
- Stay healthy: Maintain your immune system by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. Also, be sure to get the sleep you need.
- Practice good hygiene: Don’t share drinks, food, eating utensils, lip balms or toothbrushes with anyone. When you need to cough or sneeze, be sure to cover your mouth and nose.
- Wash your hands: Careful and thorough hand-washing helps prevent the spread of germs. Teach children to wash their hands often, especially before eating and after using the toilet, spending time in crowded public places or petting animals.
- Get vaccinated: Some forms of bacterial meningitis are preventable with the following: (1) Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, (2) Pneumococcal vaccine, (3) Meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Getting vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox can help prevent diseases that can lead to viral meningitis. New vaccines are being developed to protect against other common causes of meningitis.
- Don’t wait until it threatens the life of someone you care about: Learn what to look for and trust your instincts. Learn the symptoms to protect you and your loved ones. Act now and spread the word! Tell others about World Meningitis Day!
In conclusion Meningitis is a swelling of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. It can be caused by fungi, parasites, or even injury. Most often, it’s caused by viral or bacterial infection. The swelling caused by meningitis generally triggers symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck. There are several types of meningitis but Viral & Bacterial meningitis are the most common. Viral meningitis is the most common type but bacterial is the most fatal if left untreated. Immediate medical attention is necessary especially if it is bacterial. There are many complications if it is not immediately treated including brain damage, seizures and death. There are some forms of bacterial meningitis that are preventable with vaccinations. Practicing good hygiene, staying healthy and washing your hands can help prevent getting Meningitis.
I hope you learned something from this article about Meningitis. There are many resources on the internet if you need more specific information. I will continue this series with another childhood disease post. I hope you will continue to join me in this quest to learn about these illnesses that children usually encounter when they are young. Thank-you for reading my article on ”Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Meningitis”. If you would like to follow me, please check HERE
These are my previous articles if you are interested in reading them:
Teachers & Parents Beware of Impetigo: I Gave It To My Teacher
Childhood Diseases –On a Mission to Learn: Chicken Pox
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Strep Throat
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Fifth Disease
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Measles
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Mumps
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Croup
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Asthma
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Tetanus
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Ear Infections
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Reye’s Syndrome
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Kawasaki Disease
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Ringworm
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Lyme Disease
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Rotavirus Infection
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Hepatitis A
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Scarlet Fever
Childhood Diseases – On a Mission to Educate: Respiratory Syncytial Virus