Louis S. Viverito

Identifying and Understanding Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.  It can be caused by a number of infectious agents including viruses and bacteria. Bacterial meningitis is often more severe than the viral form. 

Meningitis inhabits the mucosal membrane of the nose and throat, where it usually causes no harm.  Up to 5 – 10% of a population may be asymptomatic (shows no symptoms) carriers.  This serious, debilitating and life threatening disease is spread by contact with nose and throat secretions of a person carrying the bacteria, e.g., kissing, drinking from a shared glass or straw, sharing eating utensils, coughing or sneezing directly into the face of another person, etc.

Early signs and symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck (except in infants), nausea, often vomiting, a purplish-red rash in some cases, confusion or difficulties awakening from sleep. 

In infants, poor feeding, extreme listlessness, irritability and sometimes vomiting may be the only symptoms present.

Raising the level of hygiene to prevent the spread of infection can prevent transmission of viral and bacterial meningitis.  Persons should cover their mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing and discard used tissues promptly.  Wash hands thoroughly following exposure to respiratory secretions, including handling of soiled tissues and handkerchiefs. Persons should not share straws, cups, glasses, water bottles, eating utensils, cigarettes, etc. 

Discouraging persons from kissing infants or toddlers on the mouth also can help prevent the spread of illness.  Also, of primary importance, is proper hand washing technique.  Wet hands with soap and warm water.  Rub hands vigorously for 10 to 20 seconds, making sure you clean under fingernails. Rinse well under warm, running water. When paper towels are available, use a paper towel to turn off the water faucet and throw the paper towel away.

The Stickney Health Department has meningitis vaccines available at your request.  Vaccinations differ upon the age of the recipient. The HIB Vaccine is available starting at age 2 months through 4 years of age. Starting at age 11, the vaccine for Meningitis (Groups A, C, Y and W-135) is available.  This last vaccine would give immunity to the strain of meningitis in the Chicago area. Stickney Public Health Department does have this vaccine in stock. It is also presently being offered to Chicago residents through mass vaccinations in the City of Chicago. 
Vaccine preventable diseases are not extinct, as we have seen with recent outbreaks of meningitis, whooping cough, measles, hepatitis, mumps, etc.  Protect yourself and your family.  Come in to the clinic, ask your family physician, or visit us online at www.stickneypublichealthdistrict.org to see if your immunizations are up-to-date. We would hate to see any of you become ill, when prevention is possible.

Sharon Foy
Director of Nursing Services