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Everything You Need to Know About Meningitis

meningitisMeningitis is one of those conditions that is present in our world today, yet most people know very little about it. The number of cases each year in America seems very small: When you add up the different types of meningitis, somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people are infected each year.

Even though meningitis is relatively rare, letting a case go untreated can have serious consequences. That’s why urgent care centers and other medical facilities have a duty to inform and educate their patients about this type of infection, how it’s identified, and how it’s treated.

What is meningitis?

There are membranes called meninges located around your spinal cord and brain. When you have meningitis, it means that these membranes are in a state of inflammation and infection, which can lead to a variety of symptoms. Many cases can resolve on their own without treatment, and when adequate treatment is administered, the chances of making a full recovery are excellent. There are a number of severe cases ever year, however, in which permanent disability or death result.

As mentioned, there are a few different types of meningitis.

  • Viral meningitis is the most common form of the disease.
    It can be caused by a number of different viruses including mumps, measles, and chicken pox. It can also be caused by exposure to unsanitary conditions. It does produce significant symptoms, although the prognosis is generally far less serious.
  • Bacterial meningitis, which is caused by a bacterial infection in the meninges, is among the most severe and dangerous forms of meningitis. Although the vaccine is widely available at urgent care clinics, this type of meningitis is responsible for hundreds of deaths in America every year.
  • Fungal meningitis is another rare type of the disease, occurring when harmful fungus enters the body, usually through the respiratory system. Strong anti-fungal treatment is necessary to treat it.
  • Parasitic meningitis is the rarest form of the disease. It’s caused by a specific parasite (Naegleria fowleri), which is found in warm freshwater sources. This type of infection is almost always fatal.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of viral meningitis are sometimes mistaken for flu symptoms. This includes headache, fever, and stiffness in the neck.

The other (more serious) forms of meningitis often manifest the same basic symptoms at first (headache, fever, stiffness in the neck), but within a matter of days other symptoms appear, including: skin rash, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and mental states of confusion or disorientation.

It’s worth taking a moment to learn about the symptoms of meningitis in infants. These include:

  • Running a fever
  • Fussy
  • Always sleepy
  • Slow and unresponsive when awake
  • Not eating well
  • A curious bump on the fontanel
  • Stiff body or neck

Can it be passed from person to person?

Bacterial and viral meningitis can be passed from person to person, but not fungal or parasitic meningitis.

What can I do about it?

Talk to your doctor or nurse about meningitis and preventative strategies. Proper hygiene with plenty of hand washing is a good defense against viral and sometimes bacterial meningitis, and being aware of the presence of meningitis in your community is also a good idea.

Getting vaccinated against bacterial meningitis is also a very important defense. The CDC recommends all children receive this vaccine, as well as adults with certain medical conditions. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) is available at many urgent care centers and other clinics.

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