Spring is in the air…and so is meningitis!

As you all know I work in the healthcare industry. Recently I was attending to the needs of a patient who arrived via EMS combative with the complaint of a horrible headache. The person had a fever, nausea and vomiting. At first staff thought this behavior was drug induced, but watching this person my mind instantly thought meningitis. The patient was a strong, young and healthy individual, having no prior health problems.

After my shift had ended, I waited by the phone until 2am for confirmation of my worst fears.  A spinal tap confirmed my suspicions. His CSF fluid was thick and cloudy. He had meningitis.  Having been exposed previously I knew within the next 24 hours all staff involved in this patients care would need prophylactic antibiotics . I worried because I didn’t want to spread this contagious condition onto my family. I also worried about this persons family members who were in close contact with them prior to admission to the hospital.

The next morning I waited for employee heath nurse to call me. Being the impatient soul that I am I contacted her first. We discussed the course of action to be taken, and then at the end of our conversation she said, “Well it is spring again, meningitis season.”

That got me to thinking what do most normal (non-medical) people know about this disease? Most people only know what they hear in the media, usually when there is an outbreak in a high school or college campus. Unfortunately it is usually after someone has died. Why does it take a death for this disorder to gain attention? It is because most people mistake the signs or symptoms for a cold or flu delaying treatment until it is too late. 

Meningitis is defined as an inflammation of the membranes of the brain or spinal cord.*

There are about 25,000 reported cases each year with 70% of them occurring in children less than 5 years old. In about 20-50% of cases there can be permanent neurologic deficits.

People with immuno-suppressed system (leukemia, lupus, HIV, AIDS, etc), the very young,  people with history of head injury and/or neurosurgical procedures, or defects of the skull are at risk for contracting this condition.

The two most common type of meningitis are bacterial and viral.

Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria such as H. influenzae, Steptococcus pneumoniae, neisseria meningitides.  These common bacteria usually exist in our nasal passages.  It is not until one’s  immune system is weakened that they cause disease. The bacteria get into the blood stream and travels to the brain infecting it and the cerebral spinal fluid.

Without going into too much medical detail this bacterial infection can cause the person to exhibit the following symptoms:

1. fever

2. headache

3. stiff neck

4. sensitivity to light

5. fatigue

6. confusion, combativeness

7. seizures

8. children may be fussy, refuse to eat, have a rash or flu like symptoms

Doctors may perform blood work, cat scans and spinal taps to diagnose and treat bacterial meningitis.  Bacterial meningitis a medical emergency requiring aggressive intravenous antibiotic therapy, rest, pain and seizure preventative medications.  Care is aimed at eradicating the bacteria, preventing brain damage and hearing loss.

Viral meningitis  is fairly common and is caused by a virus just like the common cold, and manifests itself in a similar manner as the bacterial variety.  Viral meningitis is treated with rest, fluids and medication for fever or pain. Viral meningitis can usually be treated at home.

Only medical screening by a doctor can determine which type of meningitis you have, so seek medical treatment immediately if you have any of the above symptoms. Meningitis is very contagious and is spread by close contact, coughing and sneezing.

Talk to your child’s doctor about vaccines that can prevent infection with bacterial meningitis.

I hope my recent brush with this disease can help prevent you or someone you love from contracting the potentially life threatening disease.

Until next time,





Luckmann, Joan. Saunders Manual of Nursing Care . Philadelphia, PA  Saunders: 1997

Centers for Disease Control


This blog is informational, is not intended to diagnosis any ailment and should not be treated as medical advice. Please contact your doctor for definitive care, diagnosis, and treatment.

* New Webster’s Dictionary. 2004


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