With today, April 24th, being World Meningitis Day, the Confederation of Meningitis Organizations as well as the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada and others are raising awareness about this potentially life-threatening condition. Their goal and the goal of Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary (and other physicians around the world) is to better educate patients on the signs and symptoms of meningitis in the hope that treatment will be sought before it reaches that life-threatening stage.
Meningitis is a condition that occurs when the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord becomes inflamed. It is typically spread from close contact with other individuals (i.e. from coughing/sneezing, sharing utensils, etc.) Some of us carry the germs of meningitis without even realizing it.
If left untreated, meningitis can be fatal in a short period of time. Survivors of meningitis that leave treatment too late can have severe consequences such as paralysis, blindness, and deafness. Thus, it is important to seek immediate medical attention at the first signs of meningitis. Some telltale signs and symptoms of meningitis include fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting – these symptoms are usually present within the first 6 hours. Later signs and symptoms include drowsiness, neck stiffness, cold hands and/or feet, skin rash, confusion, and even coma.
There are different forms of meningitis. Aseptic meningitis, also known as viral meningitis, is the most common. It is most prevalent during the summer and fall months, is usually less serious and rarely life-threatening if treated early. Most of those infected with viral meningitis typically recover within 5 to 10 days. Bacterial meningitis is more severe. It can progress quickly and be fatal within 48 hours or less. The first sign of bacterial meningitis is flu-like symptoms. Fungal meningitis, while rare, can also be serious. Fungal meningitis occurs in individuals who have compromised or weakened immune systems (i.e. from cancer, diabetes, etc.) and premature babies with low birth weights. It is treated with ant-fungal medications.
While most recover from meningitis without any after-effects, that is not always the case. Certain issues can arise after meningitis, which can be temporary or permanent. This includes memory loss, trouble retaining information, difficulty concentrating, residual headaches, weakness, paralysis, speech problems, changes in eyesight, and more. Children may also develop disturbed sleep, changes in character, as well as other behavioural problems.
Vaccines are an affective way to protect against bacterial meningitis. They work by creating antibodies against the bacteria. As there are many different strains of bacteria that can cause meningitis, one vaccine for a particular bacterium will not protect against the other, so it is important to have the discussion with your physician as to what vaccine is best-suited for you.
Remember, if you notice any of the symptoms of meningitis or are not feeling yourself, seek medical attention immediately and do not wait as it could be a matter of life or death.