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What is meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges, the lining which surrounds the brain. The disease should not be confused with encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain itself. There are 5 distinct types of meningitis; viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic and non-infectious.

Are there different types of bacterial meningitis?

Yes, they are called strains and there are several worth mentioning; meningococcal, pneumococcal, Hib, TB and neonatal meningitis. TB and neonatal are very rare, and Hib (which almost exclusively affects under 4’s) has become rarer since the introduction of a vaccine for all under 4’s.  Pneumococcal meningitis tends to affect children, older people and anyone who has already had a chronic illness such as heart disease, liver disease or diabetes. Meningococcal is the most common strain and can be further sub-divided into three groups, commonly referred to as A, B, C.

What Causes Meningitis?

The bacteria which cause bacterial meningitis live in the back of the nose and throat region and are carried at any given time by between 10% and 25% of the population. The bacteria gets into the bloodstream and travels to the meninges. Viral meningitis, the viruses responsible can be picked up through poor hygiene or polluted water

How is Meningitis Spread?

Both bacterial and viral meningitis are spread by coughing, sneezing and kissing but they should not be regarded as either water-borne or air-borne. Anyone can contract meningitis. However, certain age groups are more susceptible than others such as those under 5 years of age, between 16-25 and those over-55.

What are the main symptoms?

Viral and bacterial both have a wide range of symptoms which combined can provide clarity for meningitis diagnoses. In adults and older children vomiting, high temperature, severe headaches, neck stiffness, a dislike of bright lights, drowsiness, other joint pains, and fits may be present. In babies and infants watch for fever with hands and feet feeling cold, vomiting, refusing feeds, high-pitched crying, a dislike of handling, neck retraction, a staring expression, difficulty in waking and a pale or blotchy complexion.

Most importantly, a rash may form. It may appear on any part of the body. They are purple in color and will NOT turn white when pressed. It looks like small clusters of tiny pin pricks at the beginning, which can quickly develop into areas of skin damage.
The development of the rash is an indicator of septicemia (blood poisoning). It is absolutely vital that the sufferer is immediately taken to the nearest emergency room. If not treated quickly, septicemia can be fatal or mean the loss of limbs or fingers/toes.

Not all symptoms will appear at once. Some symptoms may not appear at all which can cause difficulties in diagnosing meningitis. 

What about vaccinations?

There are vaccinations available through your family doctor. In some states, vaccinations are also available through your local pharmacist. New vaccines are currently being tested and the medical community remains hopeful that further studies will lead to the eradication of meningitis. 

Can you recover from meningitis?

Many people do make a full recovery. While others struggle with after effects of both viral and bacterial meningitis.  With both forms, there is a wide variation in how the disease affects a sufferer in the long term. Tiredness, recurring headaches, short-term memory difficulties and concentration problems have been reported as common. Temper tantrums inhibited learning ability and babyish behaviors are common in children. Mood swings, aggression, balance problems, and clumsiness are also challenges adult sufferer's face. Some, if not all of these after-effects should pass in time. More severe after-effects are deafness (permanent or temporary), epilepsy/seizures, sight problems and brain damage. 

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