Preventing Meningitis

Meningitis is a devastating disease that can be caused by a number of factors.  Fortunately, preventing meningitis is possible with proper hygiene and vaccination.

 

This serious and potentially life-threatening disease involves swelling of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord.  When the membrane, called meninges, becomes inflamed, the patient will suffer from fever, lethargy, headache, irritability, stiff neck and photophobia (eye sensitivity to light).  The inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, including viral and bacterial infections, as well as protozoa, fungi and other parasites.

 

The vast majority of meningitis cases result from contagious infections caused by common viruses and bacteria.  Any bacterial or viral infection, including a potentially fatal condition like meningitis, can be prevented with good personal hygiene.  Encourage your family members to wash their hands thoroughly and often, particularly after using the washroom and before eating.  Don't share food, drinks or eating utensils.  Avoiding close contact with someone who is ill can also halt the spread of germs.

There is no single vaccine to protect against all forms of meningitis, however there is a wide range of vaccinations that will protect against various forms of the disease.

 

Because polio, mumps, measles or chickenpox infections cause some types of viral meningitis, being vaccinated against these diseases can act as a preventative measure.  Once successfully vaccinated, your body will be better prepared to fight the virus that causes these diseases.  You will be protected from the basic disease, as well as the viral forms of disease that can cause meningitis.

 

A range of new vaccines is now available which are highly effective against Hib meningitis; most cases of pneumococcal meningitis, and meningococcal bacteria type C, which is the cause of one form of meningococcal meningitis.  Before vaccines were introduced, Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under 5 years of age.  These Hib vaccines include ActHIB, HibTITTER, and PedvaxHIB.  All of them may be given simultaneously with other vaccines.  Each child should receive the Hib vaccination four times - at two, four, six and twelve to fifteen months of age.

 

The menomune vaccine is effective against Meningococcal bacteria types A, B, C, W135 and Y, but does not protect against type B of this bacteria.  This vaccine is highly recommended for people who live in crowded buildings, such as students living in residential halls on campus.
 
The prevnar vaccine protects against seven of the eighty most common strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae that cause eighty-six percent of pneumococcal infections in neonates and infants.  Vaccination with the prevnar vaccine should be performed four times, at the same intervals as the Hib vaccine.

 

Pneumovax is a vaccine that usually protects against pneumococcal forms of meningitis within two to three weeks of administration.  This is a polysaccharide vaccination given to adults over 65 years old who suffer from HIV infection, sickle cell disease and other conditions.

 

If you or your child has been in contact with someone who has meningitis or recently developed the disease (for example, in a college dorm or child-care centre), be sure to seek professional medical advice immediately, and begin appropriate preventive medication and treatment immediately.