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What You Need to Know About Meningitis
By Meherin Huque, MD
The availability of vaccines has dramatically reduced the incidence of meningitis or inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Even so, experts say that those who remain unvaccinated are still at risk for the disease and can’t count on herd immunity to protect them.
Types of Meningitis and Who’s at Risk
There are several types of meningitis, including fungal, parasitic, bacterial, and viral. The most common forms are bacterial and viral.
When you have bacterial or viral meningitis, it spreads through your bloodstream until it reaches your blood and/or spinal cord.
The most dangerous type of meningitis is bacterial. If not immediately treated, it can result in hearing loss, brain damage, seizures, vision loss, migraine headaches, and even death.
Not all types of meningitis are contagious. However, viral and bacterial meningitis are spread through coughing, sneezing, and close contact. For this reason, schools and daycares can become breeding grounds for the transmission of the disease. Young children, as well as unvaccinated adolescents and teens, are particularly at risk. A common cold or flu in infants can quickly turn into meningitis.
The Signs and Symptoms of Meningitis
It may be difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis because they can be similar. Some signs to look for include:
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stiff neck
Some types of bacterial meningitis may cause a pink, red, or purplish-colored rash.
Vaccination Offers the Best Protection
Being vaccinated against meningitis is the best way to curb the spread of the disease. Since bacterial meningitis is the most dangerous and often the deadliest, there are two types of vaccines to safeguard against it.
The first type is called the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. This vaccine targets the four most common strains of bacterial meningitis and offers the best protection, especially when coupled with booster shots. The other type of vaccine is MenB and safeguards against only one form of the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies should be immunized against meningitis between 2 months and 10 years of age if they are immunocompromised, have an enlarged spleen, or have sickle cell disease. Adolescents should receive the meningococcal vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12 and then a booster shot when they are 16. Teenagers between the ages of 16 and18 should also get the MenB vaccine.
Meningitis is a disease that can spread when people are living in close quarters, such as dorms, which is why many colleges and universities, including those in Texas, require students under the age of 22 be vaccinated.
The meningitis vaccines may cause mild side effects ranging from redness and soreness at the sight of the injection, muscle aches and pains, headaches, and fatigue. However, the side effects usually only last for a few days.
Meningitis vaccines are readily available through your doctor’s office and community clinics.
If you have questions about the meningitis vaccines or any other type of immunization, you should talk with your doctor.