With the recent meningitis outbreaks at colleges across the United States, it’s important to understand what meningitis is and how you can protect yourself and your child from the illness. The most common cases of meningitis are caused by bacteria and viruses. Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis and is caused by viruses such as the herpes simplex virus, HIV, West Nile virus and the mumps. Bacterial meningitis is rarer than viral meningitis, but it is very contagious and can become life threatening if it’s not treated immediately.
The most common symptoms associated with meningitis include a bad headache, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, mental status change and a stiff neck.
Both viral and bacterial meningitis are contagious and can be spread from someone who is infected through tiny drops of fluid from the throat and nose, including when the person talks, laughs, coughs or sneezes. Talk to your kids about following good hygiene practices like washing their hands before eating and after using the restroom, and using a tissue when coughing or blowing their nose.
Additionally, meningitis can be spread through sharing food, utensils, glasses, tissues and towels, as well as well as through kissing. Advise your children to not share these personal items with friends or classmates to help stop the spread of germs.
Lastly, meningitis can be spread when a person comes in contact with an infected person’s stool. This can happen at daycares.
The best way to prevent meningitis is through vaccination. Routine immunizations against Hib, measles, mumps, polio, meningococcus and pneumococcus can protect against meningitis caused by these microorganisms. Talk to your child’s doctor to make sure they’re up to date on all of their vaccinations.
If you suspect your child may have meningitis, call your child’s doctor immediately.