Meningitis - What You Need To Know
How to Prevent Meningitis
Meningitis is a condition marked by the inflammation of the membranes that protect the spinal cord and the brain. The condition is often the result of a viral or bacterial infection and can spread rapidly, causing severe headaches and stiffness along the neck and the spine. Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help minimize the chances for developing meningitis, including getting the right vaccinations, avoiding infections, and keeping your immune system strong. Keep in mind that none of these strategies can guarantee that you will not get meningitis—they will simply improve your chances of avoiding it.
Getting the Right Vaccinations
Vaccinate infants with the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine.Children under 5 are particularly susceptible to catching Hib disease, a bacterial infection that can lead to meningitis. Their chances of developing an Hib infection are significantly reduced by being vaccinated against it, however. Most doctors in the U. S. recommend having infants vaccinated with the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine at 2 months of age.
- Most children in the United States receive this vaccine as part of the recommended schedule of vaccines that begin when they turn 2 months old.
- This vaccine may also be recommended for adults with sickle cell disease or who don’t have a spleen. Talk to your doctor if you meet these criteria and think the Hib vaccine might be for you.
- As of 2019, this vaccine is part of the standard program of vaccinations in over 100 different countries around the world, including all of North and South America and Europe. If you live in Russia or China, you may have to seek out a private practitioner who specifically offers this vaccine.
Have children younger than 2 get the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13).Pneumococcus bacteria, also known as S pneumoniae, are a leading cause of bacterial meningitis. The PCV13 vaccine, which protects against pneumococcal infections, is part of the normal schedule of vaccines that most American children under 2 years of age receive.
- Your doctor may recommend additional PCV13 vaccines for children over the age of 2 years if they have certain health conditions.These conditions may include chronic cardiovascular disease, chronic pulmonary disease, or immunocompromising conditions. Consult with a doctor to determine the best schedule of vaccinations if this is the case.
- Doctors may also recommend a single dose of the PCV13 vaccine for adults over the age of 65 who have never had a PCV13 vaccine in the past.
- This vaccine is widely offered around the world and is administered routinely in 134 countries.
Give older children and adults the Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23).The PPSV23 is recommended for all adults older than 65, as well as anyone between the ages of 2 and 64 who has risk factors for developing pneumococcal infections.
- These risk factors include medical conditions such as chronic heart disease or illness, weak immune systems, chronic pulmonary disease, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, or cirrhosis of the liver.
- Your doctor may advise you to get 2 doses of PPSV23 5 years apart if you’re under 65 and at serious risk of pneumococcal disease, followed by a third dose when you turn 65. However, always follow the advice of your primary physician when scheduling your vaccines.
- Your doctor may recommend that you receive both the PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate) and PPSV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide) vaccines, depending on your particular medical condition.
Have children between 11 and 12 receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine.The Centers for Disease Control recommend that children receive this vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12, with a booster shot given at age 16. If children don’t receive the first dose until they’re 13 to 15, then they should receive the booster between 16 and 18.
- The vaccine can also be given to young children whose immune systems are compromised and are thus at a higher risk of contracting meningitis.
- The meningococcal conjugate vaccine has been approved for use in children as young as 9 months old.
- This vaccine is not widely available outside of the Western world. If you live in the global South, you may have to go out of your way to find a doctor who could administer this vaccination for your child.
Avoiding Catching Viral and Bacterial Meningitis
Avoid close contact with people who already have meningitis.The germs are easily spread from one person to another by close bodily contact (such as hugging, kissing, or sharing eating utensils) or being in the same environment for a long time.Avoid spending time around people with meningitis or the symptoms of meningitis to lower your risk of catching it from them.
- Early symptoms of the virus include a sudden, high fever, stiff neck, very severe headache, extreme light sensitivity (photophobia), and nausea or vomiting.
- Signs of meningitis in a newborn include fever, constant crying, excessive sleepiness or sluggishness, neck stiffness, and a bulge in the top spot on the baby’s head.
- This is especially important if those individuals tend to sneeze or cough without covering their mouths and noses. For example, children in daycare often spread meningitis by sneezing and coughing without covering their faces.
- If you can’t avoid being in constant close proximity to people with the disease (e.g., if you are caring for a sick family member), consider wearing a face mask to protect yourself from the exposure.
Wash your hands frequently.Preventing meningitis involves eliminating bacteria and germs that could be transferred from other substances to your skin and eventually find their way into the body. Get into the habit of washing your hands before and after working with children, using the restroom, or eating.
Go for well-done with your foods if you’re pregnant.Bacteria are sometimes found in meats that are prepared rare to medium-well, increasing the chances of exposure. Learn to enjoy meats that are cooked thoroughly and at a higher temperature for a longer period of time.
- Cook all meats to 165 °F (74 °C) before eating them.
- You should also only consume dairy products that come from pasteurized milk. In rare cases, bacteria in unpasteurized milk can cause meningitis.
Preventing the Spread of Fungal Meningitis
Avoid areas and environments that are likely to contain fungus.Fungal meningitis is not spread from person to person, but instead develops when fungus enters the body and makes its way to the brain and spinal cord through the bloodstream. Thus, one of the best ways to avoiding catching it is to avoid exposure to fungus whenever possible.
- Living in certain areas of the United States, for example, can increase your risk of exposure to meningitis-causing fungi. Soil in the Southwestern United States is more likely to contain Coccidioides, while bat droppings in the Midwest may contain Histoplasma.
- Fungal meningitis is quite rare compared to viral or bacterial meningitis.
Avoid using drugs that may have been exposed to fungus.It’s possible for fungal spores to contaminate drugs and thereby enter the body of a person using the contaminated drugs, leading to meningitis. Heroin is particularly prone to fungal contamination, and your risk of fungal meningitis increases if you smoke contaminated heroin.
- If you are struggling with drug addiction, talk to your doctor. They can recommend a rehabilitation program or prescribe medications to help you quit.
Wear a protective mask when working with bird droppings.If you work with or are exposed to bird and bat droppings, be sure to wear a face mask or other filtering protection if the droppings are disturbed. This will help prevent fungal spores from entering your body through your lungs.
- Fungi that are commonly found in bird droppings include Cryptococcus and Histoplasma.
- This is especially important if you live in the Midwestern United States.
- If you live in an area where Histoplasma is common, your chances of exposure are high. However, most people who are exposed to Histoplasma do not develop histoplasmosis or related complications, such as meningitis. Your chances of developing histoplasmosis are much higher if you have a condition that compromises your immune system, such as HIV/AIDS.
Look out for the symptoms of meningitis when taking medications.Medications that weaken your immune system as a side effect also tend to leave you at greater risk of contracting fungal infections. If your immune system is temporarily weakened due to your medication and you develop the symptoms of meningitis, talk to your doctor about getting tested for a fungal infection.
- Potential symptoms of fungal meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting.
- The 2 types of medications that can increase your chances of getting a fungal infection are corticosteroids and TNF (tumor necrosis factor) inhibitors.
- Note that you should see your doctor for any symptoms you experience that may indicate meningitis. However, if the symptoms of fungal meningitis appear after you’ve taken a medication that weakens your immune system, it’s more likely that you may have contracted fungal meningitis and you should be tested for it.
Maintaining a Strong Immune System
Take supplements to avoid micronutrient deficiencies.Not eating enough nutrients like zinc, iron, and various vitamins may result in a weakened immune system. If your diet isn’t meeting your nutrient needs, consider taking supplements to avoid potentially reducing your immune system’s strength.
- Vitamins like A, C, E and D are very helpful in maintaining good health and decreasing the possibility of developing inflammation around the brain and spinal cord.
- The B family of vitamins supports the immune system as well as the nervous system, making it even harder for meningitis to develop.
- Don't forget fish oils and other sources of fatty acids that help decrease inflammation in general and serve as food for the immune system.
QuestionCan I get bacterial meningitis more than once?
Registered NurseRegistered NurseExpert AnswerYes. While it is not usual to get bacterial meningitis more than once, it is possible.Thanks!
How long is the incubation period once you are exposed?
How do I prevent meningitis if I am an adult and already had all of my vaccinations?
- When considering nutritional supplements as a tool in preventing meningitis, talk with a physician first. This is especially true if you are already taking medications for other health issues or if the patient is a child. Some supplements can negatively interact with medications or trigger undesirable side effects in children. A doctor will be able to evaluate the situation and determine which supplements are safe and which should be avoided.
- While the goal is to prevent meningitis from developing, the good news is that this type of health issue can be treated with the aid of a qualified physician. Make sure you seek treatment swiftly, especially for bacterial meningitis, as delaying your treatment can result in serious complications or death.
- Note that traveling to certain areas of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa or Mecca during annual pilgrimages, may put you at higher risk of contracting meningitis.
Sources and Citations
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Video: Managing Meningitis - Mayo Clinic
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