Meningitis Outbreaks: How to Protect Your Family
Outbreaks of meningitis most often occur in late winter and early spring. While viral meningitis is generally less dangerous than bacterial, it still requires medical attention to identify the source of infection. Some types of meningitis are much more serious than others. In fact, some forms of bacterial, fungal, and environmental meningitis can result in brain damage or death if not treated quickly and effectively.
"Bacterial meningitis can be devastating for families," says Lynn Bozof, president of the National Meningitis Association. "Parents should know that health officials recommend routine vaccination for all preteens and teens. This preventive action can help protect adolescents in general and also in the event of an outbreak."
Meningitis spreads through the air and through direct contact with the respiratory fluids of someone who is infected, for instance, by sharing a kiss. Communication is essential to containing the infection, which is why timely media alerts, hospital updates, and individuals simply passing information along by word of mouth are all very important.
In the event of an outbreak, these steps will help protect your closest friends and family:
- Avoid close contact with known cases. Similar to spreading or catching a cold, coughing, mouth-to-mouth contact, and hand-to-mouth contact are common ways of spreading and contracting meningitis.
- Pay attention. Listen to local news reports or check online for updates from local hospitals and other health officials.
- Know the symptoms. Headache, fever, nausea, and stiff neck are trademark symptoms of meningitis. Symptoms may also include rapid breathing, agitation, and decreased alertness.
- Seek early diagnosis. If you do come down with symptoms that may indicate meningitis, contact your health care provider immediately. Even if you don't have symptoms, contact your health care provider if you think you have been exposed to someone who has meningitis.
- Get immediate treatment. If you have bacterial meningitis or other serious forms of the disease, or have been exposed to someone who is infected, early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent serious illness and neurological damage. In unusual cases, you may need to be hospitalized so that health care professionals can not only monitor the disease but watch out for serious side effects associated with some of the medications used to treat some forms of meningitis.
In rare circumstances, a meningitis outbreak occurs that is not contagious. However, many people are infected. For example, in late 2012, an outbreak of a very rare type of fungal meningitis occurred in Michigan when contaminated steroid injections were used by several clinics that treat people with back and joint pain. All of the clinics obtained the steroids from the same pharmaceutical company and the solutions were contaminated with a fungus that spread through the patients' blood to their spinal cords.
The only people who were ever at risk of developing the disease were those who received the contaminated injections. In this case, lumbar punctures and MRIs were necessary to diagnose the condition and determine if treatment was warranted.
As with any serious type of meningitis, national media announcements and statewide communication led to early diagnosis and treatment that saved many lives.
National Meningitis Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Meningitis
Furman University: Meningitis FAQ
http://www2.furman.edu/studentlife/health/Pages/MeningitisFAQ.aspx#How is meningococcal disease spread?
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