So recently, there has been an outbreak of the meningitis disease in Northern Nigeria, with the death toll hitting 489. With the alarming mortality rate, it is important we are put in the know about what this disease is about so we can protect ourselves. We don’t know where the next outbreak will happen so as the boys scout code states, WE HAVE TO BE PREPARED.
Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. There are 3 membranes that cover these important parts of the body; dura mater, arachnoid and pia mater. Infection of fluids surrounding these membranes can cause meningitis.
Meningitis is caused mainly by viral or bacterial infections. However, there are several other causes such as; fungal (cryptococcal), cancers, chemical irritation, drug allergies, parasites (Angiostrongylus cantonensis, Gnathostoma spinigerum, Schistosoma) and inflammatory diseases like sarcoidosis
Symptoms of this disease sometimes mimic the regular flu, but with time get more serious. Also, symptoms of viral and bacterial meningitis are similar at the beginning but bacterial meningitis gets more severe with time. Symptoms also vary with age.
Possible signs and symptoms in anyone older than the age of 2 include:
- Sudden high fever
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache that seems different than normal
- Headache with nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking
- Sensitivity to light
- No appetite or thirst
- Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)
Newborns and infants may show these signs and symptoms:
- High fever
- Constant crying
- Excessive sleepiness or irritability
- Inactivity or sluggishness
- Poor feeding / decreased appetite
- A bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanel)
- Stiffness in a baby’s body and neck
Infants with meningitis may be difficult to comfort, and may even cry harder when held
There are various risk factors that can precipitate this disease and by highlighting them, you’d have an idea why the north suffered this outbreak.
- Skipping vaccinations.Risk rises for anyone who hasn’t completed the recommended childhood or adult vaccination schedule.
- Most cases of viral meningitis occur in children younger than age 5. Bacterial meningitis is common in those under age 20.
- Living in a community setting.College students living in dormitories, personnel on military bases, and children in boarding schools and child care facilities are at greater risk of meningococcal meningitis. This is probably because the bacterium is spread by the respiratory route, and spreads quickly through large groups and in small spaces.
- Pregnancy increases the risk of listeriosis — an infection caused by listeria bacteria, which also may cause meningitis. Listeriosis increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery.
- Compromised immune system.AIDS, alcoholism, diabetes, use of immunosuppressant drugs and other factors that affect your immune system also make you more susceptible to meningitis. Having your spleen removed also increases your risk, and patients without a spleen should get vaccinated to minimize that risk.
- Working with animals. Farm workers and others who work with animals have an increased risk of infection withListeria.
Complications from meningitis can be very deadly especially if not attended to immediately with a greater risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage, others include;
- Hearing loss
- Memory difficulty
- Learning disabilities
- Brain damage
- Gait problems
- Kidney failure
However, with prompt treatment, even patients with severe meningitis can have good recovery.
Preventive measures have to be taken to combat this outbreak, funny enough these measures are easy and cost almost nothing. They include;
- Wash your hands.Careful hand-washing helps prevent germs. Teach children to wash their hands often, especially before eating and after using the toilet, spending time in a crowded public place or petting animals. Show them how to vigorously and thoroughly wash and rinse their hands.
- Practice good hygiene.Don’t share drinks, foods, straws, eating utensils, lip balms or toothbrushes with anyone else. Teach children and teens to avoid sharing these items too.
- Stay healthy.Maintain your immune system by getting enough rest, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Cover your mouth.When you need to cough or sneeze, be sure to cover your mouth and nose.
- If you’re pregnant, take care with food.Reduce your risk of listeriosis by cooking meat, including hot dogs and deli meat. Avoid cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Choose cheeses that are clearly labeled as being made with pasteurized milk.
- Avoid contact with sick people. If you’ve been in close contact with one or more people who have a bacterial meningococcal infection, your doctor can give you preventive antibiotics. This will decrease your chances of developing the disease.
Vaccinations should also be given as it can prevent some types of meningitis; Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, meningococcal vaccine
Be aware, be prepared…Report any suspicious symptom to the nearest health center. HEALTH IS WEALTH!
Author: George Uchendu
(MB; BS in view, Final year student)
Health content writer / contributor on http://www.drsade.wordpress.com