Meningitis can be a severe or fatal disease caused by a bacteria, virus, fungi, or parasite. The word “meningitis” means swelling of the covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of meningitis can include fever, rash, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, or fatigue. Infants may be irritable, very drowsy, very fussy, or refuse to eat. Seek medical care without delay if you or your child has those symptoms.
There are several types of meningitis and risk factors differ for each.
Bacterial meningitis risk factors include:
- Age; babies have higher risk for developing bacterial meningitis, but people at any age can develop it.
- Group settings
- Certain medical conditions, medications, and surgical procedures can increase a person’s risk.
Viral meningitis risk factors include:
- Being a child under 5 years old
- Having a weakened immune system caused by diseases, medications, or recent transplantations
Fungal meningitis risk factors include:
- Weakened immune system due to HIV infection, cancer, or certain medications like steroids and medications taken after organ transplantation.
Parasitic meningitis risk factors include:
- People living in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands (including Hawaii) have been infected with A. cantonensis.
- People who live in the Midwest, Northeast, Middle Atlantic, and West Coast who spend time with raccoons are at an increased risk of menigitis from B. procyonis.
Amebic meningitis is caused by Naegleria fowleri, an ameba that lives in warm fresh water and soil and infects a person when entered through the nose. N. fowleri can be found in:
- Warm, fresh water, such as lakes and rivers
- Hot springs
- Warm water from industrial power plants
- Swimming pools or splash pads that are poorly maintained
- Tap water and water heaters
Meningitis caused by the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae and Neisseria meningitidis are reportable in Oklahoma.
For some types of bacterial meningitis, vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infection.
For other types of meningitis, hand hygiene is the single most important action to prevent the spread of infection to others and you. Wash visibly soiled hands with soap and water after using the toilet, after changing diapers, and before preparing and eating food. Use alcohol-based hand gels when hands are not visibly soiled. Routine environmental cleaning is recommended, with focus on items that have been soiled with saliva or nose/throat secretions. In institutions such as childcare centers, washing objects and surfaces with a diluted bleach solution is recommended. For hard surfaces such as diaper-changing areas and bathrooms, use a 1:10 dilution of bleach (mix one cup of bleach with 1 gallon of water). For other objects such as toys and eating utensils, use a weaker form of bleach solution (mix one tablespoon of bleach with one gallon of water).
If you believe you or your child has contracted meningitis of any kind, contact your doctor right away and explain the symptoms you or your child are experiencing. Spinal fluid is tested to find the type of meningitis, but this test is not always needed. Most of the time, viral meningitis is treated with just bed rest and plenty of fluids. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines for fever or headaches. For bacterial meningitis, antibiotics are needed that treat the specific bacterial cause.