Why do I need to be aware of Meningitis?

Meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia (blood poisoning) are serious diseases that can strike rapidly with little warning and if left untreated could be fatal. Outbreaks of meningitis tend to occur where people live or work closely together, such as universities or colleges, living in halls of residence, living in shared student accommodation.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the meninges (the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord). The infection can be caused by bacteria or a virus, and it leads to the meninges becoming inflamed.  This can damage the nerves and brain.

What is the difference between bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis?

It is only possible to distinguish between bacterial and viral meningitis by carrying out clinical tests; it is not possible to tell the difference from symptoms alone.  All cases of suspected meningitis should be treated as an emergency because if caused by bacteria the meningitis could lead to septicaemia which can be fatal.

Signs and Symptoms of Meningitis

Meningitis signs and symptoms may develop over several hours to 1-2 days.

The signs and symptoms that may occur include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache that isn’t easily confused with other types of headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting or nausea with headache
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • Skin rash in some cases, such as in meningococcal meningitis

Prevention of Meningitis

These steps can help prevent meningitis:

  • Wash your hands. Careful hand-washing is important to avoiding exposure to infectious agents. Teach your children to wash their hands often, especially before they eat and after using the toilet, spending time in a crowded public place or petting animals. Show them how to wash their hands vigorously, covering both the front and back of each hand with soap and rinsing thoroughly under running water.
  • Practice good hygiene. Don’t share drinks, foods, straws, eating utensils, lip balms or toothbrushes with anyone else. Teach children and teens to avoid sharing these items too.
  • Stay healthy. Maintain your immune system by getting enough rest, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Cover your mouth. When you need to cough or sneeze, be sure to cover your mouth and nose.
  • GET VACCINATED!  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that a single dose of MCV4 be given to children ages 11 to 12, with a booster shot given at age 16. If the vaccine is first given between ages 13 and 15, the booster shot is recommended between 16 and 18. If the first shot is given at 16 or older, no booster is necessary.

The Health and Wellness Center offers Meningitis Vaccines. Please visit us on the 4th floor of Main Building or call 202-884-9615 for more information.