Tami Griffith: Meningitis can kill, even in Colorado
April 18, 2011
Grand County residents who dismiss meningitis as a serious health concern because of Colorado’s relative isolation may want to reconsider.
The ailment recently killed two hockey players in Fort Collins and sent two others to hospitals in serious condition in June 2010. Meningitis was also cited as the cause of death in another incident two months earlier in Denver.
Clearly, meningitis is a factor, even in Colorado – and potentially in Grand County.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. What makes it an ailment of concern is that it can be easily spread. It is spread person-to-person through respiratory secretions, coughing and sneezing. In other words, this potentially fatal infection is almost as contagious as the common cold.
Meningitis can be viral or bacterial. In 2006, there were approximately 72,000 hospitalizations due to meningitis. Out of those, approximately 56 percent were due to the viral form of this illness. Viral meningitis can be caused by fungi, parasites, or enteroviruses.
While the viral form is more common, bacterial meningitis is more severe and can cause brain damage, loss of hearing, learning disabilities, and even death. The mortality rate is almost 100 percent if untreated. Before the 1990s, most bacterial meningitis was caused by H. influenza B bacteria. However, with the development of the Hib vaccine, this has decreased substantially. Today, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis is Streptococcus Pneumoniae and Neisseria Meningitidis.
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People are more pre-disposed to contracting meningitis if they have been recently exposed to someone with the ailment, had a recent infection (especially respiratory or ear infections) or have recently traveled to countries with endemic meningococcal disease, such as portions of Africa. Other predisposing factors include penetrating head trauma or cochlear implants.
The signs and symptoms of meningitis include upper respiratory symptomsred or purple spots on the skin, high fever, stiff neck (if older than 2), nausea and vomiting, headache, photophobia (sensitivity to light), seizures and sweating. The elderly may have more subdued symptoms but may appear confused. In infants, their only signs and symptoms may be slower reaction time, a decrease in appetite, vomiting, fever and seizures.
Meningitis is diagnosed by evaluation of the cerebral spinal fluid. This test helps determines what type of virus or bacteria is causing the meningitis. The type of virus or bacteria determines the appropriate treatment plan. Studies show that by determining the exact cause of the illness, the risk of death can be reduced by 15 percent.
Treatment includes 7-21 days of antibiotics along with several days of steroids.
Good hand washing can help prevent a multitude of illnesses, including meningitis. However, the best way to prevent bacterial meningitis is to receive the vaccination. The HIB vaccine is given primarily to infants at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. The meningococcal vaccine is given to children ages 11 or 12, or at the ages of 13-18 if they have not previously received the vaccine. A booster may be required at a later age. Many colleges require proof of the meningococcal vaccination before students can attend.
Certain adults are in need of the vaccine as well, including those in the military, those visiting areas where meningitis is prevalent, and those at increased risk of invasive meningococcal disease.
Bacterial meningitis is a deadly disease for all ages. But it can be prevented with proper vaccination. For more information, contact Granby Medical Center at 970-887-7400.
Tami Griffith, CFNP-BC, writes every other about health issues as a community service.
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