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Meningitis

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Meningitis is typically an infection that causes the swelling and inflammation of cerebrospinal fluid and the membranes which surround the spinal cord and the brain. Meningitis is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Most cases of meningitis occur in patients ages 15 to 25, as opposed to the statistics of just 15 years ago when meningitis affected mostly children under the age of 5. Recent vaccines have successfully protected younger children from meningitis. Untreated meningitis is typically fatal.

MENINGITIS SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of meningitis are likely to include a very high fever, sleepiness, difficulty waking up, seizures, vomiting or nausea accompanied by a headache, confusion, difficulty concentrating, difficulty maintaining eye contact (especially in the very young), stiff neck, loss of appetite, lack of thirst, sensitivity to light, a severe headache, and in some types of meningitis, a rash. Sometimes the early signs of meningitis include ice cold hands or ice cold feet, leg pain, and very pale skin. Infants and newborn typically do not display all of the symptoms of an older individual, but they may cry incessantly, refuse to eat, retain or experience a periodic bulge of the soft spot on the head, and in the later stages experience a body spasm which results in severe hyper-extension of the body.
Meningitis
Image: Meningitis

MENINGITIS CAUSES

Meningitis is typically caused by a viral infection, although fungal or bacterial infections have been known to be a cause as well. When the infectious antigen enters the bloodstream, it travels through the body and migrates into the brain and the spinal cord, resulting in a serious infection. Pneumococcus is the most common cause of meningitis in the United States. Prior to 1990, a strain of the influenza virus known as influenza type b was the leading cause of meningitis, although now there is a vaccine that has significantly reduced the number of cases presented annually.

MENINGITIS RISK FACTOR

Risk factors for contracting meningitis include living environment, such as dormitory settings or boarding schools, occupations that deal with live animals, pregnancy, a compromised immune system, and age, which includes children under 5, adolescents between 15 and 25, and the elderly.

MENINGITIS DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosing meningitis is typically based on a thorough medical examination which includes a medical history, a physical exam, and diagnostic testing. Throat cultures, a spinal tap, and imaging techniques are likely to prove or disprove the presence of meningitis. In some cases a polymerase chain reaction analysis may be ordered to detect specific causes of meningitis.

MENINGITIS COMPLICATIONS

Meningitis can lead to a host of complications. The longer a patient goes without treatment the higher the risk for complications becomes. Learning disorders, behavioral problems, neurological damage, hearing loss, the loss of speech, blindness, brain damage, paralysis, adrenal gland failure, kidney failure, shock, and death are all possible complications brought on by meningitis.

MENINGITIS TREATMENT

Bacterial meningitis is treated with high dose antibiotics that are administered intravenously as quickly as possible. However, antibiotics do not work on viral infections. In some cases anti-viral medications may be administered for meningitis that is caused by a virus, but often viral meningitis clears on its won. Many physicians now treat for possible complications such as brain swelling, shock, convulsions, and the possibility of dehydration. Most cases of meningitis that are treated promptly are able to be cured and induce a complete recovery. Only when treatment is delayed or not received do patients end up with serious complications or have fatal reactions.


Patients with meningitis are very ill and require hospitalization, bed rest, fluids, pain relief, fever reducers, and ample sleep while their body fights off this terrible infection. Any build up of fluid in the brain or behind the bones of the outer ear will need to be drained to prevent hearing loss and brain pressure. Meningitis is considered an infectious disease due to the nature of the infection which typically causes meningitis. Precautions must be taken when an infected family member is being treated, and pregnant women should avoid any contact with an infected patient, including their own children. Meningitis in pregnancy can lead to complication for both mother and child, including death.

Some vaccines can reduce or eliminate the chances of contracting some types of meningitis, although once a family member has been diagnosed, the infection has most likely already been spread. Proper hand washing and a healthy diet and exercise lifestyle can reduce a patient’s chances of contracting meningitis and other forms of infectious diseases.
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