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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 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.
One of the reasons the infection is so lethal is because its often mimics the flu. Common flu-like symptoms include:
Other telltale signs can include:
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.
Many forms of meningitis can be prevented with a simple vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.
Originally published 9/24/2015; Revised 2023
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