Meningitis is a contagious disease, meaning it can be passed on from person to person. Take a look at the infographic for some quick facts.
- Viral meningitis - Viral meningitis is fairly common. It usually does not cause serious illness. In severe cases, it can cause prolonged fever and seizures.
Bacterial meningitis - Bacterial meningitis is not as common, but it is very serious. It needs to be treated right away to prevent brain damage and death.
Viral meningitis is caused by viruses. Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria. Most often it is caused by viruses or bacteria that infect the tissues and sometimes the fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can also be caused by other organisms and some medicines, but this is rare.
Bacterial meningitis is spread through sharing food, drinks, utensils, water bottles, mouth guards or cigarettes. It is also spread by kissing, coughing or sneezing.
People living in close quarters are at higher risk for infection including:
- College students
- Boarding-school students
The most common symptoms among teens and young adults are:
- A stiff and painful neck, especially when you try to touch your chin to your chest
- Trouble staying awake
Children, older adults, and people with other medical problems may have different symptoms including:
- Babies may be cranky and refuse to eat. They may have a rash. They may cry when held.
- Young children may act like they have the flu. They may cough or have trouble breathing.
- Older adults and people with other medical problems may have only a slight headache and fever.
Treatment depends on the cause.
Bacterial meningitis can be deadly if not treated right away. See your doctor right away if you or your child has symptoms.
Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics in a hospital. And you will be watched carefully to prevent serious problems such as hearing loss, seizures or brain damage.
Viral meningitis is more common, and most people with this form of the illness get better in about two weeks. With mild cases, you may only need home treatment including drinking lots of fluids and taking medicine for fever and pain.
The best way to protect yourself or your child from meningitis is to keep your immunizations up to date.
In BC, children receive the Meningococcal-C (Men-C) vaccine for free as part of their routine immunizations at 2 months and 12 months of age and a booster in grade 6. The Men-C vaccine protects against infection from one of the most common types of meningococcal bacteria, type C.
Vancouver Coastal Health & Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommend a dose of quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine starting as early as 12 years of age. This quadrivalent vaccine protects against 4 strains of meningococcal disease- A,C,Y and W-135. This vaccine is also recommended for anyone traveling countries in Africa south of the Saharan Desert, and for people with underlying health conditions such as HIV and those without a spleen.
You may experience soreness, a red arm and low-grade fever after having the vaccination.
Call the Vancouver Coastal Health Travel Clinic at (604) 736-9244, with locations in Vancouver and Richmond. You can also get the meningococcal vaccine from your family doctor.