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Our View: Be alert for meningitis

Published: Thursday, April 3, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

According to the National Meningitis Association, about 800 to 1,200 Americans contract meningococcal disease each year.

Of those who get meningococcal disease, 10-15 percent die. Although the number of Americans getting meningococcal disease is the lowest it’s ever been, two people in McHenry County last month died from strains of meningitis.

A 27-year-old Crystal Lake woman died from a rare bacteria called neisseria meningitidis. It was only the third time since 2009 that form of meningitis has been reported in McHenry County. A different meningitis bacteria – streptococcus pneumonia – killed a 33-year-old McHenry woman.

Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis can develop in response to a number of causes, but bacteria and viruses are the most common. Both can result in death.

Bacterial meningitis is the most severe. It can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities.

People of any age are at risk of contracting bacterial meningitis, but infants are at higher risk. Infectious diseases tend to spread more quickly where large groups of people gather. College students living in residence halls and military personnel are at increased risk for meningococcal meningitis.

Germs that cause bacterial meningitis can be contagious and spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions, i.e. kissing. Close or long contact with a sick person in the same household or day care center also can spread the bacteria.

Meningitis infection may show up with a sudden fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and altered mental status. These symptoms can appear quickly or over several days.

Bacterial meningitis can be treated effectively with antibiotics. The most effective way to protect you and your child against certain types of bacterial meningitis is to complete the recommended vaccine schedule, according to the CDC.

Consult your physician regarding vaccination and protect yourself from these sometimes deadly infections.

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