What is meningitis?
Simply put, meningitis refers to the inflammation or swelling of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but it can also be the result of certain drugs, cancer, injuries, or other types of infection.
Dr. Julian Klapowitz of Travel Medicine Consultations specializes in travel health, and he can provide the meningitis vaccine NYC residents are seeking before visiting countries where the disease is known to exist.
What are the most common symptoms of meningitis?
Someone who has contracted meningitis may experience some or all of the following signs and symptoms:
- Unexplained nausea and/or vomiting.
- Fever accompanied by chills.
- Light sensitivity.
- Confusion and disorientation.
- Coma and death.
What are the different types of meningitis?
There are several basic types of meningitis, and the treatment for each varies. Typical categories of meningitis include:
When bacteria entering the bloodstream travel to the meninges, it causes acute bacterial meningitis. Bacteria can either invade the meninges directly or through the bloodstream. An infection, a skull fracture, or very rarely, surgeries, may also cause this ailment. The meningitis vaccine you receive for travel to certain countries in Africa and prior to participation in Hajj protects against MENINGOCOCCAL MENINGITIS, caused by Neisseria meningitides. This illness is extremely contagious and can be fatal.
Viruses are responsible for viral meningitis, which is usually less severe than bacterial meningitis. People with a healthy immune system infected by viral meningitis usually get better on their own. Most times, a germ called enteroviruses causes viral meningitis, common in the US in the summer and early fall.
Other common viruses that give rise to meningitis include HIV, mumps, herpes simplex virus, and West Nile virus, among others.
Fungal meningitis is rare and develops when a person inhales fungal spores from the environment. Fungal meningitis can be life-threatening if not treated with anti-fungal medications immediately. Individuals with medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, and diabetes are at a higher risk of fungal meningitis.
Meningitis can also be caused by a variety of other organisms, including parasites. There are many non-infectious causes of meningitis, including cancer, Lupus, and medications, including NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories).
How does meningitis spread?
Each type of meningitis spreads differently, and not all are contagious. Bacterial meningitis can transfer from person to person through food, saliva, nasal secretion, and air droplets. It can also find its way through prolonged contact with the infected person, such as in schools, hospitals, daycare, and offices, among others.
Viral meningitis spreads through direct contact with body fluids such as saliva, feces, and mucus. It can also travel through the air from an infected source who coughs or sneezes.
Is there a meningitis vaccine?
Meningitis can infect anyone of any age, including infants. The different types of vaccinations against bacterial meningitis that are available include:
- Haemophilus influenzae type B or (Hib) vaccine, typically given to children.
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), usually for adults 65 and over.
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), for adults over age 65 and people with a variety of chronic illnesses.
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY, brand names Menactra and Menveo) for pre-teens and teens, other people at risk for Neisseria meningitides, and international travelers.
- Meningitis “B” vaccine (MenB, brand names Bexero and Trumemba):
- For ages 10 to 25, if you are considered high-risk for the disease, and
- Ages 16-23, if you and your physician determine the vaccine is appropriate.
- Although there is no firmer guideline yet, there have been multiple meningitis “B” outbreaks at US college campuses recently (University-Based Outbreaks of Meningococcal Disease Caused by Serogroup B, United States, 2013-2018). Therefore, many medical practitioners administer MenB to college-bound students.
- Most universities require MenACWY vaccination prior to admission, and a number now require MenB vaccination as well (MenB Tracker – Meningitis B Action Project).
For more information, please see Meningococcal Vaccine Recommendations | CDC and Updated Meningitis B vaccination Recommendations – ACIP 2016 | MMWR.