Meningitis is an inflammatory disease caused by a virus or bacteria. Those infected with meningitis have inflammation of the membranes covering the spinal cord and brain. Determining whether the disease has been caused by bacteria or a virus is crucial to the correct treatment. While viral meningitis is a rather low-grade illness and typically clears up on its own without treatment, bacterial meningitis can often result in brain damage, learning disabilities and death.
Symptoms of meningitis in those two years of age and older often include headache and high fever, accompanied by stiffness in the neck. Some may show signs of nausea, confusion and vomiting as well. Symptoms in those two years of age and younger often include lethargy, vomiting and irritability. If the disease is not diagnosed and treated quickly, patients may begin to have seizures. The diagnosis for meningitis is typically made by finding bacteria in the spinal fluid. A spinal tap is used to collect this fluid. Treatments vary, depending on whether the disease is caused from bacteria or a virus. Bacterial meningitis is typically treated with antibiotics. The treatment must begin early in the development of the disease in order to be completely effective.
It is important to note that many types of bacterial meningitis can be contagious. Spreading of the bacteria can be done through throat and respiratory secretions that typically occur during sneezing and coughing. Vaccines are currently available for meningitis and have shown to be effective against certain strains of the disease. Researchers and scientists recommend all children between the ages of eleven and eighteen receive this new vaccination in order to help control the bacteria. The vaccine is known as MCV4 or Menactra and physicians have been encouraged to talk with their patients in these age ranges in order to further explain the benefits of taking the vaccination. Those entering college are also advised to have the vaccination as they show an increased risk of contacting the disease.
Research efforts that have been ongoing for decades have shown that this vaccine can help to lower the risk of contracting meningitis. Research is ongoing to find more effective ways of treating the disease in those that have already been diagnosed. Many organizations have collaborated their efforts in order to find a cure for the disease that is 100 percent effective. Bacterial meningitis currently ranks high for the number of infant related deaths and scientists are working to lower this number significantly.
Parents of children ages eleven to eighteen are being encouraged to speak with their physician about this new vaccine. Many areas have already begun making materials available to learn more about the vaccine and its potential side effects, although some areas of the world have not yet received this information. Ongoing research will help to bridge the gap between who has the vaccine and who does not as well as find newer and faster ways to diagnose the disease, potentially with less pain for the patient, and treat it before it becomes life threatening.
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