Why Meningitis Travels Fast and How You Can Prevent It

Why Meningitis Travels Fast and How You Can Prevent It

If you lived on campus during your college years, chances are your school required a meningitis vaccine. With good reason. The disease is common among children and young adults. Close contact in school classrooms, daycare centers and dorms are perfect environments for its spread. Coughing, sneezing and kissing are the most common ways it’s passed.

Still, meningitis may not be on your radar.  You might even wonder if it’s much of a threat anymore.

Although the risk of getting the meningitis is low, (only 0.11 cases per 100,00) it is serious when it strikes. About 10 to 15 percent of those who contract it die from the disease. Among the survivors, one in five will have serious, long-term disabilities.

Here’s what you need to know.

Meningitis 101

Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes (meninges) around the brain and spinal cord. It is most often caused by a viral infection, but can also be caused by bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections.

Viral cases often improve on their own without treatment. Bacterial meningitis is very serious. It can be fatal within just a few days without antibiotic treatment.

Know the Symptoms of Meningitis

One of the reasons the infection is so lethal is because its often mimics the flu. Common flu-like symptoms include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • Fever that’s sudden and high

Other telltale signs can include:

  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue, extreme sleepiness
  • Red or purple skin rash
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light

If you or someone you know thinks they have meningitis, it’s important to be diagnosed quickly and know if the cause is bacterial or viral.

While viral meningitis usually isn’t severe and goes away on its own, bacterial meningitis needs antibiotics. Serious cases may require intensive care. Delayed treatment can increase the risk for permanent brain damage or death. Prompt diagnosis and treatment offers the best chance for complete recovery.

Protect Yourself from Meningitis 

Many forms of meningitis can be prevented with a simple vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaving site icon (CDC) recommends children and teens get vaccinated. Different vaccines are given to infants and young children, preteens, teens and college freshmen who have not been previously vaccinated.

There isn’t a vaccine for viral meningitis, but you can reduce your risk for infection by washing your hands regularly. You should also avoid kissing or sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils with someone who is sick.

Finally, if you or your family has not yet been vaccinated for meningitis, talk with your doctor. He or she can recommend the best course of prevention to keep you healthy.

Sources:  Meningococcal Disease, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022; Meningitis, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2020; Meningococcal Vaccine Recommendations, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, 2021.

Originally published 9/24/2015; Revised 2023