Healthy Living

How do You Contract Meningitis?

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Key Takeaways

  • Many types of meningitis are as a result of viruses and bacteria that hide in our bodies
  • Viral meningitis is less severe compared to bacterial meningitis
  • Viral meningitis affects mostly children and young babies while bacterial meningitis affects mostly adults

The majority of meningitis is as a result of viruses and bacteria that harbor in our bodies.  These germs normally live in the nose and throat or the intestines and can cause sickness. The bacteria can result in inflammation if they spread to the tissues lining the spinal cord and the brain. Meningitis is the name given to this inflammation.

The germs that cause meningitis are contagious meaning you can get them from somebody else.

Types of Meningitis

Viral meningitis

Being the least dangerous, viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis. It is as a result of viruses (enteroviruses) that harbor in the intestines. Contaminated objects, water or food can be used to spread these viruses. Viral meningitis is common for babies and small children.

 

Bacterial meningitis

Bacteria are the cause of bacterial meningitis, and it is a very severe sickness. Infected Saliva or mucus is used to transmit these germs from one person to another. Bacterial meningitis is caused by either of two kinds of bacteria:

  • Neisseria meningitis. This type of bacteria can live in your throat without causing illness but can be spread to others making them have severe meningitis.
  • Streptococcus meningitis. This kind of bacteria is common and besides causing meningitis, it can lead to pneumonia or ear and sinus infections among other illnesses.

Adults are the most affected by bacterial meningitis in the US.

Meningitis can be as a result of other kinds of bacteria which include:

  • Group B streptococci. It is common for newborns, and they become infected during or after birth
  • Listeria monocytogenes.  Common in adults who are older and in newborns.
  • Haemophilus influenza.  It affects all age groups, and it takes place after there has been an infection on the upper respiratory like a sinus infection.

All pregnant women who are 35-37 weeks are required to be screened for group B streptococci. Antibiotics are given to mothers carrying the bacteria to prevent their newborns from becoming infected.

 

Meningitis can also be caused by other types of bacteria although it is rare and mostly affects people suffering from medical conditions that are long-term. Other organisms like fungus, cancer or lupus can also cause meningitis. Brain surgery or injury (especially to the face or skull) can result in meningitis.

 

Meningitis vaccines

You can get protection from certain causes of meningitis by vaccination.

The vaccinations include:

  • Meningitis B vaccine. This is given to babies at 8 weeks of age; a second dose is given at 16 weeks, and after 1 year a booster is administered.
  • 5-in 1 vaccine. Given to babies who are at the age of 8, 12 and 16 weeks
  • Pneumococcal vaccine.  Given to babies who are 8 weeks and 16 weeks and 1 year.
  • Meningitis C vaccine.  Given to babies at the age of 12 weeks, 1 year, to teenagers and students entering university for the first time.
  • MMR vaccine. Given to babies who are 1 year and followed by a second dose at 3 years and 4 months.
  • Meningitis ACWY vaccine. Given to teenagers, first-time university students, and sixth-formers.

 

Outlook for meningitis

There are rarely any long-term complications in viral meningitis, and it normally cures on its own.

The majority of bacterial meningitis patients recover fully if given early treatment although long-term complications, such as the following serious complications, can occur to some.

  • Amputation leading to limb loss
  • Memory loss and concentration
  • Total or partial vision or hearing loss
  • Epilepsy ( seizures that are recurrent)
  • Difficulties in movement, coordination, and balance.

According to estimates, a fatality in bacterial meningitis occurs for one in every ten cases.

More about Meningitis

Meningitis is the swelling of the meninges (membranes) that outline the spinal cord and brain, giving the ailment its name.

Bacterial meningitis is serious and most common form of infection. It is caused by bacteria. This bacteria can be found both in the environment and in the body. In your body it will be found in the respiratory system and in the nose but will do no harm. It can cause an infection in the spinal cord or brain by going through the bloodstream resulting in bacterial meningitis.  This form is mostly spread through sneezing, coughing and kissing. Most germs that cause bacterial meningitis are moderately non contagious.

Meningitis can also occur as a result of a head injury, surgery or sometimes sinus infection. Infections are more likely as the conditions disrupt your immune system lowering immunity. Hot dogs, soft cheese and sandwich meats which consist of listeria bacterium will also lead to bacterial meningitis. Listeria issues are more common in young babies, expectant mothers and the elderly.

Babies with vulnerable immune system are susceptible to bacterium meningitis.

In many cases the cause of bacterial meningitis is unknown.    

 

Prevent the Spread

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial meningitis. To reduce swelling intravenous antibiotic consisting of corticosteroid can be prescribed before test results are produced.

Immunization can help prevent certain forms of bacterial meningitis. Vaccines that prevent against Hib, pneumococcus and meningococcal are available.

The following lifestyle tips can help to prevent bacterial meningitis.

  • Don’t compromise on your immune system.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Get adequate rest.
  • Observe a healthy diet.
  • Keep away from people infected with bacterial meningitis

 

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis

Be on the watch out for headaches, high fever and stiff neck. If you have developed the disease you will experience confusion, vomiting, nausea, irritability and bright light sensitivity. In some cases it can also lead to seizure and stroke.

Children under two years will vomit due to the fever, this can be accompanied by the baby refusal to eat. Swelling on the head can also be visible due to blockage of fluids within the skull caused by inflammation. The baby will also be inactive, have a stiff body and will cry constantly. It can sometimes lead to Seizures.

Symptoms can develop fast, sometimes in a matter of 24 hours, or they can progress within two days. It is important to seek medical help if you develop bacterial meningitis symptoms.

 

Why Prevention Matters

If treatment is not undertaken immediately, there can be severe damages i.e. mental impairment and stroke. Ailment complications might be permanent. Other complications include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Paralysis
  • Memory loss
  • Hearing problems
  • Shock and wide infection (septicemia)
  • Difficulty walking
  • Learning disabilities

Early treatment with antibiotics will help you recover fully with minimum or no effects at all. But the best method of treatment is prevention. Learning the causes and mode of infection will help you avoid health related issues with bacterial meningitis.

 

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors pose a threat to contacting bacterial meningitis, these include: 

Age – Babies between one month and two years are the most vulnerable to bacterial meningitis.  However persons of any age can contact bacterial meningitis. But different bacteria are more common in certain age groups than others.

Skipping vaccinations – Incomplete childhood or adult vaccination program poses a threat.

Community setting – Living situations greatly influence the spread of bacterial meningitis due to close contact. Outbreaks of infectious disease are often reported in military barracks, college campus and child care facilities. Meningococcal ailment is a reported example.

Certain medical conditions – If you have ever undergone a spinal or brain surgeryor you haveexperienced extensive blood infection you might be at risk of bacterial meningitis. Medication can also put you at risk of bacterial meningitis i.e. immunosuppressant drugs.

Other factors like AIDS, diabetes and alcoholism can increase your risks.  

Constant exposure to meningitis pathogens – Microbiologistthat are regularly exposed to bacteria that cause meningitis are at high risk of contracting infection. 

Travel – Visits to meningitis belt in the sub-Saharan Africa, especially when it is dry poses a threat. Visit to Mecca for Hajj and Umrah increases the risk to contact meningococcal meningitis.  

When to seek medical treatment

If you worry that you or your child have meningitis, medical help should be acquired immediately. You should not wait for a rash to develop but rather trust your instincts. Visit your nearest A&E (accident and emergency) center or call 999 for an ambulance. You should also call your doctor or NHS 111 for advice if you have doubts about your condition or if you suspect that someone with meningitis has spread it you.