Meningitis: Questions and answers

What you need to know about meningitis

Published On: Feb 04 2013 06:06:13 PM EST
DETROIT -

After the recent death of a Michigan college student, many parents, students, and families are asking questions about bacterial meningitis.

Local 4 Medical Expert Dr. Frank McGeorge sat down with Ruth Spencer to answer some of most common questions.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and coverings surrounding the brain and spinal cord. There are two types of meningitis; viral and bacterial. Viral meningitis is considered less severe and resolves without special treatment, provided the person has a normal immune system. However, bacterial meningitis is considered more severe and can cause brain damage, hearing loss and even death.

Symptoms

"The general group of symptoms that we think about with meningitis are fever, headache, sensitivity to bright lights, that's because the bright light irritates your brain a little bit, and a stiff neck or even a sore neck," said Dr. Frank McGeorge.

He says the symptoms are similar for the bacterial and viral forms of meningitis, and the means of transmission are also similar.

Meningitis is spread through closer forms of contact such as kissing- sharing eating utensils, beverage containers, or cigarettes. Or, if someone would cough or sneeze right into your face.

"A little paranoia about your personal hygiene habits actually can go along way," advised Local 4 Medical Expert Dr. Frank McGeorge.

He urges you to wash your hands after touching anything in common areas of dorms or classroom, especially before touching your face, as that's how the bacteria spread. And, avoid sharing things with classmates that you don't really need to need to share.

Vaccination Questions

When Local 4 solicited questions via Facebook, one viewer wanted to know when, and how often, children should be vaccinated?

The doctor answered, "Protection from the vaccine only lasts a few years. So, that's why it's recommended that you get two doses: one at age 11 or 12, and a booster shot at age 16."

Dr. McGeorge says the riskiest period for young people contracting meningitis is between 16 and 21 years old, with 18 years old being the peak time.

That's one reason Texas passed a law in 2011 that requires college students to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. If not, they can be pulled from class. Michigan requires vaccination for children 11 years or older as they enter 6th grade, but has no law requiring the booster before college.

Local 4's Ruth Spencer asked Dr. McGeorge, "Your opinion now, do you think Michigan should have that kind of state law?"

"What I think the best solution is give everyone the right information, so they make the right personal choice for them, which in most cases should fall on the side of vaccinating," he answered.

Local 4 contacted a handful of universities in the Metro-Detroit area. Michigan State, Wayne State, and University of Michigan all recommend the meningitis vaccination, but it is not a requirement. There is not a vaccine for the viral form of meningitis.

Pre-emptive Treatment

If you've come in contact with someone who has a dangerous form of bacterial meningitis, you will most likely be contacted by health officers. They will offer prophylactic treatment to those who have been in close contact (within three feet sometime during the previous seven days) with the person who was infected. Those who had casual contact with the person should not be affected.

In the most recent case at Kalamazoo, there are no additional reports of illness so far. Health officials say its unlikely there will be more cases.