Is it bacterial or viral?
Meningitis is a disease that is scary and can be confusing when trying to determine if it is bacterial or viral.
Meningitis is caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis can be a life-threatening infection that requires immediate medical attention. Viral meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in people with normal immune systems.
The first line of defense against bacterial meningitis is vaccines. The vaccines are first recommended for babies. Cindy Litchfield, Henry County Public Health RN, recommends that first year college students living in dorms or other group settings also consider receiving meningococcal vaccine.
Routine vaccination of adolescents, preferably at 11 or 12 years, with a booster dose at 16 years of age, is also recommended, even though it does not protect against all strains of meningitis.
The vaccine is also recommended for travelers where the disease is common, certain high-risk individuals, lab personnel who are exposed routinely to the bacteria and military recruits.
The symptoms of a bacterial meningitis infection may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rash, a stiff neck and occasionally death.
These symptoms may appear as quickly as several hours after exposure or sometimes over several days.
Antibiotics are needed to kill the infection. A person is able to spread the infection from the time they are infected until they have been on an appropriate antibiotic for 24 hours.
Viral meningitis is caused by common viruses. It is more common, but far less powerful than bacterial. People with viral meningitis usually have symptoms that are like the flu and make a recovery in a little over a week. Viral meningitis can’t be treated with medicine. A person’s immune system can usually return them to health.
The viruses and bacteria that cause meningitis spread when someone has close contact with an infected person or from touching an infected surface and then their mouth.
Litchfield recommends that individuals do not share eating utensils, not drink from the same glass or container, not share cigarettes, and be aware that kissing transmits the bacteria.
Anyone can get bacterial meningitis but it is more common in infants, children and young adults. If ill, a person should stay home.
Household members, child care center attendees and staff and close friends of infected people need to ask their doctor about antibiotics.
Sitting or standing next to someone does not constitute “close contact,” and therefore those persons do not need treatment.
Good hand washing is one of the best methods of stopping the spread of this bacteria, as well as other disease causing organisms. Anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms should cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or into their elbow.
For more information, contact your health care provider or Henry County Public Health at 319-385-6724.