Everything Parents Need To Know About Meningitis
As a parent, it's only natural that you want to keep your kids as safe, happy, and healthy as possible. Every mom and dad feels a sense of duty to their little ones, hoping to protect them from injuries, accidents, and infections of all kinds.
You might not be able to keep your kids 100% healthy at all times, but there are plenty of ways you can reduce their risks of dealing with serious diseases, and meningitis is one of the big ones.
Bacterial meningitis is reasonably rare in the United States, with only around 4,100 cases and 500 deaths reported each year, but even with quite low incidence rates, meningitis still poses a risk to many Americans, and it can occur quite commonly in children of various ages.
Once infected, patients can suffer severe symptoms from meningitis. Without prompt, effective treatment, they may suffer severe brain damage or lose entire limbs while battling the disease, and some patients can die within 24 hours of diagnosis.
This is why it's so important for parents to be fully aware of what meningitis is, how it can be transmitted, what kinds of signs and symptoms they should look out for, and most importantly of all, how to prevent this disease in the first place.
A Definition Of Meningitis
So what is meningitis? Well, the term is used to describe an inflammation of the membranes, also known as meninges, around the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by bacteria, as well as viruses, and even parasites or fungi too.
Since the causes of meningitis can vary quite wildly, the severity of each case can also vary. Some cases are relatively mild, with patients recovering on their own quite quickly, while others can be far more severe, requiring urgent, life-saving care.
Meningitis is a contagious disease and can be passed from person to person quite easily in most cases, and this is what often leads to mini-outbreaks of the disease at colleges or schools from time to time. In its bacterial form, the disease can be spread via kissing, coughing, or sharing cups, while the viral version can be spread through respiratory secretions via coughing and sneezing too.
What Are The Symptoms Of Meningitis?
In order to identify a case of meningitis, it's important to know about the most common signs and symptoms of this disease. As mentioned earlier on, the exact symptoms can vary from case to case, but most patients will exhibit one or more of the following:
It's important to note that the symptoms of meningitis can be quite similar to the symptoms of various other, less severe issues, like the flu or a common cold, so your child may not necessarily be suffering from meningitis just because they have a headache and fever. However, if you do notice any of the above signs or symptoms, it's advised to visit a health care provider as soon as possible for a diagnosis.
This disease can also occur in newborns, and the common signs and symptoms in young babies include high temperatures, constant crying, a general sense of tiredness or irritability, an inability to feed, stiffness throughout the body, and a small bulge appearing on the top of the baby's head. Since babies are unable to vocalize any pains or aches they experience as effectively as older children, it can be harder to detect meningitis in younger infants.
Meningitis can be very serious, and the longer it is left untreated, the worse it can become. As time goes by, symptoms can start to become far more serious, including issues like hearing loss, learning difficulties, loss of memory, permanent brain damage, difficulty walking or moving around, organ failure, and even death.
Treatments and Prevention of Meningitis
Fortunately, there are ways to deal with meningitis. If your child is diagnosed with this disease, the precise course of treatments may vary, depending on the type and severity of the case. In cases of bacterial meningitis, antibiotics are usually used to help the body fight off the infection. When it comes to viral meningitis, this tends to be less severe, and no medications will usually be needed as children should be able to make a full recovery on their own.
Common preventative measures for reducing the risks of catching meningitis include encouraging children to wash their hands often, especially before eating or after using the toilet, as well as after touching animals or spending time in a public place. Good hygiene is also key to reducing the risks of contracting this disease, and children should be taught to avoid sharing lip balms or drinking straws with others.
The simplest and most common way to prevent meningitis is through vaccination. There are several different vaccines that can be used for dealing with bacterial meningitis and massively reducing the risk of infection. You can learn more about vaccines by speaking with your child's health care provider, and as long as you follow the typical schedule of vaccinations, your children should be protected.
Children in the US will typically receive their first Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccine when they're just a few months old. The PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate) vaccine also helps to reduce the risk of meningitis, along with the PPSV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide) vaccine, and the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which is given to children around the age of 11/12.
Meningitis was once a much bigger problem and still leads to tens of thousands of cases and deaths in certain parts of the world. Fortunately, thanks to vaccines, the risks associated with this disease have vastly reduced in recent years. Still, it can strike when you least expect it, so it's important for parents, in particular, to know these signs and take action to keep their kids safe.