Thursday, December 12, 2013

Recognizing Bacterial Meningitis

Given recent outbreaks in California and New Jersey and Aaron Loy’s continuing recovery meningitis has been a topic on the minds of college students and their families around the country.  For those in San Diego interested in the progress of Aaron Loy a coming post will help answer some of your questions.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Aaron and his family, hoping that he makes a speedy recovery.  For others, the questions become how do I avoid contracting meningitis?  How do I recognize someone who is suffering from the condition?  Today’s post will be an effort to help you understand 1) what meningitis is, 2) how to prevent meningitis, and 3) what to do if you believe someone has meningitis.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord, usually the result of bacteria in the cerebrospinal fluid.  The severity of the condition and necessary treatment are dependent on the cause of meningitis.  Meningitis can result because of a bacterial infection, a viral infection, parasitic infection, fungal infection or certain cancers, drugs or head injuries (non-infectious).  Parasitic meningitis is uncommon in more developed nations.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has collected a variety of resources to answer your many questions including this podcast and FAQ sheet.  For those of you who like videos, check out this one:

To read more about the signs and symptoms associated with bacterial meningitis click HERE.  The most important things to understand about bacterial meningitis include risk factors, how to prevent it and knowing when to seek treatment.  The condition can progress quickly and become catastrophic if antibiotics are not administered in a timely fashion so it is important to recognize it quickly.

  • College students are most often at risk for meningitis because of the community setting (dormitories) that many of them live in.  Living in close quarters and coming into close contact with friends (who could be sick) is the easiest way to spread meningitis.
  • The easiest way to prevent meningitis is to complete the vaccine schedule.    
  • The most common signs and symptoms are sudden onset of a fever, severe headache and a stiff neck.  Others include nausea, vomiting and altered mental status.
  • If you suspect someone has meningitis transport them immediately to the hospital.  Typically antibiotics will be administered once a diagnosis is confirmed.

Knowing there is a current outbreak of meningitis at two universities around the nation can be unnerving, but educating yourself and your family and minimizing your risk can help set you at ease.  I have taken the time to list more resources below for those that would like to learn more.


Submitted by Heather L. Clemons, MS, MBA, ATC

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