MFA wants parents to know about meningitis

MFA wants parents to know about meningitis

By The Meningitis Foundation of America is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating meningitis–a potentially fatal infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord that can kill or leave survivors crippled, deaf or mentally impaired. Meningitis can strike people of any age, but more often than not, it strikes the very young.

The Meningitis Foundation of America is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating meningitis–a potentially fatal infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord that can kill or leave survivors crippled, deaf or mentally impaired. Meningitis can strike people of any age, but more often than not, it strikes the very young.

Prior to 1989, the leading cause of meningitis was Haemophilus influenza type B, which has been virtually eradicated in the U.S. by a vaccine that is now routinely given to all infants.

Now the leading cause of meningitis is the pneumococcal bacteria, an ever-present bacteria that also causes many cases of blood poisoning, pneumonia and some ear infections. Pneumococcal bacteria spreads easily, especially among children in group daycare. Recently, a vaccine was approved for the prevention of meningitis caused by pneumococcal bacteria. It’s called Prevnar and is now available and recommended for use in all children younger than two years and some children up to age five–including those who attend group daycare.

The Meningitis Foundation of America works to educate parents about meningitis and make sure they have their children vaccinated with Prevnar. Dr. Lawrence Frenkel of the University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Rockford, who is an authority on infectious diseases, is available to provide information on meningitis and how to recognize and prevent it.

What is it?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Although it can affect people of all ages, meningitis is a significant cause of serious illness and death among children.

There are about 80,000 cases of meningitis each year in the U.S. Approximately 5,800 of these are caused by bacteria and are life-threatening. The consequences of bacterial meningitis can be devastating, quickly leading to brain damage or death. Nearly all cases of meningitis are caused by viruses. A few cases may have other causes such as fungi, reactions to medication and underlying medical conditions.

Common symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache and stiff neck. These may be accompanied by photophobia (avoidance of bright light), nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and general malaise. In bacterial meningitis, symptoms develop rapidly, sometimes over a few hours, and are followed by drowsiness and occasionally loss of consciousness. Symptoms are often accompanied by a deep red or purplish rash. In viral meningitis, the symptoms are typically milder and may resemble the flu.

Diagnosis and treatment

Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is the only definitive way to diagnose meningitis. Antibiotic treatment must be started as soon as possible in order to prevent damage and/or death.

Many survivors of bacterial meningitis are left with lifelong neurological deficiencies that can include deafness or hearing loss, mental retardation, spasticity or paralysis, and seizures.

With viral meningitis, recovery is typically rapid, and there is no likelihood of death. For most causes of viral meningitis, there is no specific therapy; however, research is being done on medicines that may eventually help to further limit symptoms.

For several decades, Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the U.S. Since the introduction of vaccines to prevent H. influenza type B, around 1990, however, meningitis caused by Hib has decreased by 94 percent.

The leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the U.S. is now Streptococcus pneumonia, also known as pneumococcus. Pneumococcal meningitis is becoming more difficult to treat because many strains of pneumococcus are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Prevnar, the first vaccine designed to protect infants and young children from this disease, was approved for use in the U.S. in February 2000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children younger than two should be immunized with Prevnar, and that other children up to age five who are at increased risk for infection should also be immunized.

Another significant cause of bacterial meningitis is meningococcus. Young children are the most susceptible to meningococcal meningitis. Currently, the only vaccine available for this strain in the U.S. isn’t very effective in children younger than two, but it is recommended by the CDC for college students who are in group settings such as dormitories.

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