Understanding the Panic
This past summer created widespread panic when contaminated steroid injections exposed 14,000 people across 23 states to viral meningitis. The medicine was responsible for 720 viral meningitis cases and 48 deaths.
If there is any comfort, the meningitis in this case was the Fungal variety and unless you were unfortunate enough to receive the contaminated medicine, you weren’t at risk.
That doesn’t make meningitis any less dangerous because there are five type of the disease – it can be contagious and deadly. There is a great deal of confusion about meningitis and meningococcal meningitis disease. There is a difference – a deadly difference. Perhaps the greatest mistake made by people today is confusing meningitis with the flu and not getting medical help fast enough to avoid potentially serious complications from the disease.
According to the National Meningitis Association: In the United States, approximately 1,500 people will be diagnosed with Meningococcal Meningitis and 11 percent will die. 2. Adolescents and young adults are at greater risk for meningococcal disease than most, accounting for 15 percent of all cases. One out of seven who get the disease will die. 3. Among those who survive, approximately 20 percent live with permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations. 4. Meningococcal disease is often misdiagnosed because
its early symptoms are much like those of the flu.
Types of Meningitis
Viral meningitis, also called aseptic meningitis, is the most common type. It is rarely fatal and usually resolves with treatment. Meningitis develops in fewer than 1 in 1000 people who are infected with one of the viruses associated with the condition. Bacterial meningitis is often severe and is considered a potential medical emergency. If left untreated, bacterial meningitis may be fatal or cause serious longterm complications. Because bacterial meningitis can progress rapidly, it is important to identify the bacteria and begin antibiotic treatment as soon as possible. Bacterial infection in the ears, mouth, or sinuses can spread directly to the brain and spinal cord. Some types of bacteria are transmitted from person to person through secretions from the mouth and nose. Bacterial meningitis is usually severe. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. There are several pathogens (types of germs) that can cause bacterial meningitis. Some of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in the United States include Haemophilus influenzae (most often caused by type b, Hib), Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Neisseria meningitidis. Fungal meningitis develops in patients with conditions that compromise the effectiveness of their immune systems (e.g., HIV/AIDS, lupus, diabetes). Fungal meningitis occurs in 10% of patients with AIDS. Crytococcus neoformans and Candida albicans are commonly involved in fungal meningitis. Parasitic meningitis is more common in underdeveloped countries and usually is caused by parasites found in contaminated water, food, and soil. Noninfectious meningitis may develop as a complication of another illness (e.g., mumps, tuberculosis, syphilis). A break in the skin and/or bones in the face or skull (caused by birth defect, brain surgery, head injury) can allow bacteria to enter the body.
What Causes Meningitis?
Viruses and bacteria that spread to or directly infect the central nervous system cause most cases of infectious meningitis.
About 90% of cases of viral meningitis are caused by one of the enteroviruses (e.g., coxsackievirus, echovirus, poliovirus). Mumps, herpesvirus, and arboviruses (transmitted by insect bites) also may cause viral meningitis. About 30% of mumps cases in people not vaccinated for the disease develop meningitis.
Common causes of bacterial meningitis include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitides, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus epidermidis. Prior to the 1990s, Haemophilus influenzae type b was the primary cause, but widespread vaccination (Hib vaccine) has greatly reduced the incidence of this infection.
Noninfectious Meningitis Causes
There are other, noninfectious ways to get meningitis. These include: * Carcinomatosis (widespread metastatic cancer) * Contaminated water (may contain parasites) * Head injury, birth defect of the skull, brain surgery (may
result in infection of the meninges or cerebrospinal fluid) * Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories
(e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen) and antibiotics.
Know the Signs and Symptoms of Meningitis
Symptoms of bacterial meningitis are usually acute, developing within a few hours and last 2 to 3 weeks. It is important to get medical attention as soon as the symptoms occur, because acute bacterial meningitis can be fatal within hours.
Viral meningitis can develop suddenly or within days or weeks, depending on the virus and the overall health of the patient. The most common symptoms of both viral and bacterial meningitis are stiff neck, headache, and fever. The symptoms can develop over the course of a few hours (acute bacterial meningitis) or a few days. Some patients experience cough, runny nose, and congestion prior to developing other symptoms.
Other signs and symptoms of meningitis can include: * Confusion * Drowsiness * Joint pain * Lethargy * Nausea and vomiting * Seizures * Sensitivity to light (photophobia) * Skin rash (commonly near the armpits
and on the hands and feet)
Symptoms in Infants.
Meningitis symptoms in infants can be difficult to detect and include: * Bulging of the soft spots (fontanels) in the head
caused by increased intracranial pressure * Decreased activity * Difficulty nursing or eating * Excessive sleeping * High-pitched cry * Increased crying and irritability * Vomiting
Treatment for Meningitis
Treatment for meningitis is determined by the type of meningitis and the organism causing the disease.
Viral meningitis usually requires bed rest, increased fluid intake to prevent dehydration, and analgesics (e.g., aspirin, acetaminophen) to reduce fever and relieve body aches.
Meningitis caused by herpesvirus can be treated using antiviral medication
Bacterial meningitis requires prompt intravenous (IV) antibiotic treatment in the hospital to prevent serious complications and neurological damage. If symptoms are severe, IV treatment may be initiated before the lumbar puncture is performed.
Severely ill patients are treated immediately with a combination of antibiotics. Penicillin combined with other medications is commonly used.
There are specific medications that are effective against fungal meningitis and Parasitic meningitis usually is treated with a benzimidazole derivative or other antihelminthic agent.
Meningitis can strike quickly. When in doubt, seek medical advice. It could be more than the flu. -This information provided courtesy of the National Meningitis Association