What is it?
Meningitis is an infection of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord (meninges) causing them to become inflamed. It can be due to bacteria or viruses. The bacteria live in people’s noses and throats and can be spread through coughs and sneezes.
People with a higher risk of infection include:
• People at the extremes of age (under-5 and over-65)
• Young adults aged 16 to 21
• University students living in halls of residence
• Children whose parents smoke
Children in many countries including Nigeria are routinely vaccinated against some types of meningitis, but infections still occur yearly.
What are the symptoms?
Meningitis usually causes fever, sleepiness (including feeling lethargic or having difficulty waking up), and a rash. Symptoms come on quickly, getting worse within a few hours. Other symptoms that may be noticed include:
• Neck stiffness
• Nausea and vomiting
• Loss of appetite
• Pain looking at bright lights
• Confusion or difficulty thinking clearly
Babies and children under 2 may not have these symptoms, but instead come down with:
• Irritability or lethargy
• Poor feeding
• Excessive crying, usually high-pitched
• A bulging soft spot on the head (fontanelle)
• Stiffness or seizures.
What treatments work?
The usual treatment for meningococcal disease is antibiotics. The antibiotics are usually given in drip form. Steroids may also be given based on the discretion of the doctor, to prevent nerve damage.
Close contacts of people with meningitis may also need to take antibiotics in tablet form.
Meningitis is an emergency; the sooner treatment is started, the better the chances of survival and recovery.
What will happen to me?
Most people who get meningitis get better if properly managed. However, it’s a serious illness, and the infection can get into the blood causing a severe infection called sepsis. This can cause death if not handled promptly. If the infection damages a nerve, this causes a disability even after recovery from the infection.