Meningitis = inflammation ("itis") of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meninges), usually caused by infection (bacterial, viral, rarely fungal (in HIV) or parasitic (malaria)), but some drugs and non-infectious diseases can cause it
Bacterial meningitis is very serious, can be fatal, but is much less common since the introduction of a vaccine against the two most common bacterial causes of meningitis, Hemophilus influenza and pneumococcus.
Meningococcus is an uncommon bacterial infection that can cause very serious meningitis, most commonly in college freshman living in dorms and military recruits because it's easily spread in large congregations of adolescents and young adults. 2,600 young adults get meningococcal disease every year.
Symptoms are fever, headache, stiff neck and change in mental status (confusion, disorientation, lethargy).
Meningitis is diagnosed by lumbar puncture and treated with antibiotics. There is a 15% mortality rate.
How to Prevent Meningitis:
A new Meningococcal Vaccine (Menactra) became available in 2005 and is covered by most insurers for adolescents, starting at 11-12yr old (when they should receive it). It's particularly important for college freshman living in dormitories and military recruits, who are at highest risk. This is a very safe vaccine with few side effects other than a sore arm.
What if one is exposed to someone with meningococcal meningitis? Contact your doctor, who will probably prescribe an oral antibiotic for prophylaxis (that is, to prevent the disease).
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