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General Health : Infectious Disease Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Meningitis: What you need to know
By Sue Mueller
Jan 27, 2008 - 10:24:32 AM

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Haemophilus influenzae meningitis%u200E. Photo credit: CDC
SUNDAY JAN 27, 2008 ( -- A school counselor at the Saint Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadow Town, Queens County, New York died of bacterial meningitis, media reported.

Health officials are investigating the case to determine whether his relatives or other people who might have contact with the person may be at risk of meningitis because the disease is contagious.

A high school student, Michael Gruber, 17, in Massapequa on Long Island also died from meningococcal meningitis this week shortly after he experienced symptoms, health officials were cited as saying.

Gruber had flu-like symptoms when going to bed Wednesday and next morning he was so sick he was rushed to a local hospital. By Thursday afternoon, he was dead.

The following is compiled from the websites of the U.S. government agencies for those who want know more about meningitis.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord caused often times by infection.  Non-bacterial meningitis is also referred to as aseptic meningitis and bacterial meningitis also may be called purulent meningitis.

What causes meningitis?

Meningitis often times is caused by a viral or bacterial infection.  Bacteria that cause meningitis include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), Listeria monocytogenes, and many other types of bacteria.  

Enteroviruses, which often cause intestinal illness, are the strains that most often result in viral meningitis.  But other viruses such as genital herpes and West Nile virus can also cause viral meningitis.

Meningitis can also caused by fungi, chemicals, drugs and tumors.

What is the risk of meningitis?

Meningitis caused by viruses is often milder while bacterial meningitis can result in death even if treated.  In the US, about 17,500 cases of meningitis are reported each year.  The death rate ranges from 5 to 15 percent and children and adults age 50 or older are at higher risk of death. Viral meningitis often affects people under 30 with 70 percent cases of virus-induced meningitis occurring in children under 5.  

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Fever and chills, severe headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, sensitivity to light and mental status changes are the common symptoms of meningitis.  High fever, headache, and stiff neck are common in people age older than 2.  These symptoms can develop over several hours and last 1 to 2 days.  Other symptoms associated with meningitis include decreased consciousness, rapid breathing agitation, severe neck stiffness resulting in a characteristic arched posture-seen infants and small children, bulging fontanelles (the soft spots in a baby's skull may bulge) and poor feeing or irritability in children.

What are the exams for diagnosis of meningitis?

The diagnostic exams include lumbar puncture, gram-stain and culture of cerebral spinal fluid, chest x-ray to check other sites of infection and head CT scan to check hydrocephalus, abscess or deep swelling.

How is meningitis treated?

Two types of treatments are used, one to handle the cause of meningitis and others to deal with the symptoms.  Antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial meningitis.  Medications and intravenous fluids are also used to treat brain swelling, shock, and seizures.  

For bacterial meningitis, it is important to know what bacterium causes the condition.
 Early effective antibiotic treatment can reduce the risk of dying from meningitis to below 15 percent, but the risk is higher among the elderly people and children.

Is meningitis contagious?

Because viruses and bacteria are two main types of agents that cause meningitis, transmission of the disease from person to person is possible.  Prolonged contact with a patient with meningitis should be avoided.

What is the prognosis of meningitis?

Early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis is important to protect the patients against permanent neurological damage.  Viral meningitis is often not so serious and symptoms are expected to disappear even if left untreated within two weeks without resulting in serious complications.  

Meningitis can cause hearing loss or deafness, brain damage, loss of vision and hydrocephalus.  In rare severe cases, this disease can result in death.

© 2004-2008 by unless otherwise specified

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