Meningitis: What to know

man sick in bed Meningitis infections-even the rare and aggressive forms such as bacterial meningitis caused by the neisseria meningitidis germ-can be prevented through vaccination and personal hygiene.

This is the message from Rhonda Leitch, a Board-certified infection preventionist with McLaren Oakland, on avoiding contraction of both bacterial and viral meningitis.

"People of all ages can get meningitis, but it's most common among teens, young adults and the college-aged," Leitch said. "Very soon, our kids will be heading back to school or away to college, living and studying in close proximity to one another-prime conditions for the spread of germs.

"The best thing anyone can do is to get their inoculations-that vaccination will do more than anything else to prevent infection."

There are two main types of meningitis-bacterial and viral. While it's incredibly rare, Leitch describes the headline-grabbing bacterial neisseria meningitidis as being particularly aggressive and dramatically lethal.

Again, though, it is an illness that can be prevented through vaccination.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis in early stages can mirror those of the common cold and flu with the development of sudden high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, red-purple skin rash, weakness and increasing sensitivity to light in advancing stages.

These usually appear three to four days after infection but also as many as 10 days. Pay particular attention to sudden and rapid increases in symptoms.

Additionally, good hygienic practice can aid in avoiding infection, especially in close-quarter living conditions such as military barracks, college dorms and daycare centers.

Major points of entry for infection of the body include eyes, nose and mouth-by direct contact with the germ by kissing, drinking from the same beverage and via contaminated food.

"Wash everything and avoid sharing," Leitch said. "Practice good personal hygiene-washing hands frequently, stay home if you have a respiratory infection and don't share food if you have an infection of any kind."

Anything that has possibly been exposed to respiratory germs, avoid before they are thoroughly cleaned. Don't share drinks or food, wash your hands and face diligently and frequently, especially right after coming into contact with something or someone that might have been exposed."

Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics but must be done quickly in order to prevent serious, long-term issues, including death.

To learn more, or to make an appointment with a physician, visit mclaren.org/oakland.