How Do You Get Meningitis?
Meningitis is a rare and serious infection that causes inflammation of the meninges, membranes surrounding and protecting the brain and spinal cord. This inflammation can lead to severe brain, nerve, and spinal cord damage. While people of all age groups can be affected by meningitis, it most commonly occurs in infants, young children, teens, and young adults. So, how do you get meningitis? Read on to learn more about it and how to minimize your risk.
What Causes Meningitis?
Bacteria or a virus are the most common causes of this infection. However, it may also result from a fungal or parasitic infection. Viral causes account for most cases, while bacterial is rarer and usually more serious, with a greater risk of complications. There are also several non-infectious causes of meningitis, including lupus, cancer, certain medications, brain surgery, and head injury. Non-infectious meningitis is not transmittable from person to person. Fungal and parasitic types are also not considered contagious but occur more readily in those with a weakened immune system.
With each type of infection, the offending micro-organism enters the bloodstream, eventually spreading to the brain or spinal cord, where it continues to progress, causing localized inflammation.
The infectious type is easily transmitted from person to person through infected throat and nose secretions. As the germs responsible for meningitis are not highly contagious, it typically takes very close contact, such as kissing, or prolonged contact, to transmit the infection. Meningitis is not transmitted through droplets in the air, as many respiratory infections are.
Due to the way meningitis spreads, people most at risk of catching the infection are roommates, those living in the same household, or close contacts, such as a partner. This explains why it is most common in settings such as daycare, college dorms, and schools. A doctor may offer close contacts of infected patients preventative antibiotic treatment to minimize their risk of developing this infection.
How Can You Minimize Your Risk?
There are certain measures you can take to minimize your risk of catching bacterial or viral types. These include:
- Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds. Be sure to wash your hands regularly throughout the day, particularly after contact with somebody who is ill.
- Avoiding sharing any cutlery, and make sure all used cutlery is washed thoroughly.
- Making sure you receive all necessary meningitis vaccines to keep your immunity up-to-date. This is the most effective way of limiting your risk.
- Limiting close contact with anyone you suspect might be infected with meningitis.
- Looking after your general health by getting plenty of exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
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What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
The signs and symptoms of meningitis may develop as quickly, within a few hours or take a few days. However, bacterial meningitis usually has a rapid onset. It is important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms so that you can spot them quickly and get urgent medical advice if you suspect meningitis. Common meningitis symptoms include:
- Cold hands and feet (despite the fever)
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Joint and muscle pain
- Stiff neck
- Dislike of bright lights
- Severe drowsiness or difficulty to wake
- Pale, blotchy, or mottled skin
- Pin-prick skin rash that does not fade when you press a transparent glass over it
- Seizures or convulsions
People have often mistaken the early symptoms for the flu. However, the infection can progress very quickly, so it is important to monitor symptoms carefully and be on the lookout for any changes. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, then seek medical advice as soon as possible.
What Should You Do if You Suspect Meningitis?
If you suspect you may have meningitis or someone you know may have this infection, you should seek medical help urgently. Prompt and effective treatment is vital, as delaying treatment can lead to serious complications and be life-threatening.
With quick treatment, you could make a full recovery. Your doctor will be able to run the appropriate tests to diagnose the cause of your meningitis and establish the best treatment plan for you. You may have to stay in the hospital while your medical team works hard to get you back to full health.