Meningitis: What You Need to Know

The CDC says that a new outbreak has killed eight and been exposed to 13,000. 

Posted: 10/09/2012 02:11 PM EDT

Over the past few weeks, news reports have been buzzing about a fungal meningitis outbreak across the United States. It has been exposed to more than 13,000 people, 103 people have been infected, and eight people have died from it. The bacteria contaminated a popular steroid injection medicine used to treat back pain, according to ABC News.

While many may have heard of the word “meningitis,” the reality is that few of us actually know what it is. And we should, given that African-Americans are 25 percent more likely to develop these infections compared to any other racial or ethnic group.

Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, which is also called the meninges. Meningitis can be caused by drug allergies, tumors, fungi and irritation to chemicals. And while the current meningitis outbreak is a rare form called aspergillus meningitis, that doesn’t mean that other forms such as meningitis can’t hurt us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 5 forms of meningitis:

—    Bacterial meningitis: Caused by bacteria, this form is very severe and needs immediate medical attention. A common form of this is meningococcal meningitis, which affects teens and young people. This form can be transmitted through kissing and sharing utensils.

—    Viral meningitis: Caused by viruses such as herpes complex, this form can be serious, too, but in most cases people with normal immune systems will not die from this form. This form can also be spread through mosquitoes, rats and other rodents. It’s often spread from person to person through fecal contamination.

—    Parasitic meningitis: Caused by parasites, organisms that live in hosts to get their food. The hosts can be humans and plants. This form of meningitis can be found in contaminated soil, food and water. This is more common in underdeveloped countries with poor water systems.

—    Fungal meningitis: This rare and noncontagious form is usually spread through spinal cord blood.

—    Non-infectious meningitis: This type of meningitis is not spread from person to person. Non-infectious meningitis can be caused by cancers, lupus, certain drugs, head injury and brain surgery.

So how do you know if you have it?

PubMed Health lists the following as common symptoms of the disease:

—    Fever and chills

—    Mental status changes

—    Nausea and vomiting

—    Sensitivity to light

—    Severe headache

—    Stiff neck

Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:

—    Agitation

—    Decreased consciousness

—    Poor feeding or irritability in children

—    Rapid breathing

—    Unusual posture, with the head and neck arched backwards

If for any reason you suspect that you might have an infection, go to the doctor immediately.

Meningitis is treatable, but these infections can create serious complications ranging from brain injury, fluid buildup in the brain and skull, hearing loss, seizures and death. Health experts claim that early detection is key to beating meningitis.

Learn more about meningitis, its treatment and how to prevent it here.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Libero Ajello)

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