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Bacterial Meningitis

What is bacterial meningitis?
How is bacterial meningitis spread?
What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?
What is the difference between bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis?
If I’ve been exposed to bacterial meningitis, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to bacterial meningitis?
How common is bacterial meningitis?
Where can I get more information on bacterial meningitis?


What is bacterial meningitis?
Meningococcal disease causes swelling or inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord and includes a variety of serious infections, including meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord), bactermia (bacteria in the blood), pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and arthritis (swelling of the joints). Children and young adults are most often affected by this disease. Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency that requires prompt treatment.

How is bacterial meningitis spread?
Through coming into contact with secretions of the nose and throat of someone infected with the bacteria (e.g., coughing, sneezing); more common in households, child care settings or schools where there is close, prolonged physical contact. People can carry bacteria in their noses and throats but who do not have symptoms can spread the disease as well as those who are ill

What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?

Bacteremia: Sudden onset of fever, chills, tiredness; occasionally a rash

Meningitis: Fever, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, extreme sleepiness, confusion, irritability, lack of appetite; occasionally a rash or seizures develop

What is the difference between bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis?
As the names indicate, bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria; and viral by a virus. Typically, bacterial meningitis is more severe and requires treatment. It is also contagious from person-to-person. Viral menigitis typically does not require treatment, and is not contagious.

If I’ve been exposed to bacterial meningitis, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
It takes anywhere from one to 10 days from the time a person is exposed to the time the symptoms appear. The average is four days.

What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to bacterial meningitis?
If you think you have been exposed, please contact your health care provider for evaluation. There are antibiotics that can decrease your chances of becoming ill, and these antibiotics should be taken within seven days of exposure.

How common is bacterial meningitis?
Bacterial meningitis is not very common. In Northern Kentucky (Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties) the average number of cases per year is less than five.

How can I avoid being infected?

1. Refer to the Kentucky immunization regulations for childhood vaccination schedule.
2. See a health care provider at the first sign of meningitis, and get treatment immediately to prevent death or lasting damage.
3. Discuss the following current recommendations for antibiotic prophylaxis with your health care provider.
American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines (2009):
           a. Household, child care center, nursery school contacts should receive antibiotic prophylaxis as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours of diagnosis of a case
           b. Pregnant contacts should discuss proper prophylaxis with their health care provider
           c. Exposed contacts should remain under medical observation because prophylaxis is not always completely effective. If your child develops a fever, contact your health care provider right away
4. Practice good hand hygiene.

Where can I get more information on bacterial meningitis?
For more information online, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s meningitis Web page or you can call the Health Department at 859.363.2070.

 Sources: Northern Kentucky Health Department; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention