Breaking news – An unusually high number of viral/aseptic meningitis cases have health officials in Washoe County concerned, particularly since the outbreak coincides with a similar outbreak of viral meningitis in Susanville, CA. But what is meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the thin layer of tissue around the brain and spinal cord and can be caused by either a virus (as in these cases) or by a bacteria.
Ok, I have a headache, I must have meningitis right?
Not necessarily… symptoms are similar for both viral and bacterial meningitis, and include:
– yes, headache, usually severe
– stiff neck/back
– sensitivity to light and sounds
– high fevers, chills
– nausea, vomiting, poor appetite
Ok, so maybe I don’t have meningitis, but what is the difference between viral and bacterial and what’s the big deal?
You can’t typically tell just based on symptoms, and people who we think could have meningitis have to have a spinal tap to help diagnose if and which type of meningitis it could be.
“Viral meningitis” means it is caused by a virus, which is not treatable by antibiotics and has to run its course. The overwhelming majority of people do get better within a week to ten days with rest and fluids and typically do not have any long-term effects after an infection.
“Bacterial meningitis” is a different story. This type of meningitis can be caused by several different types of bacteria, is much more dangerous, and treated with antibiotics. Depending on the type of bacteria and the severity of the infection, this can be quickly fatal. Other long-term effects that happen in about 50% of survivors can be seizures, brain damage, amputations, and blindness/deafness. We do vaccinate
against the most common types of bacteria that cause meningitis because of how common and severe these complications can be.
How do I avoid getting meningitis?
It is typically spread by contact with sick individuals, but just because you’re around someone who has it does not necessarily mean you are going to contract it. Good hand washing and general hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of any illness.