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What is meningitis and why is it so scary?

Every so often, a story hits the news with one big weird word in the headline: meningitis. Right now, two big-time U.S. universities, University of California-Santa Barbara and Princeton University, are trying to contain an outbreak of the swift-moving disease. But what is it, exactly?


Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by a virus or by bacteria. The viral kind is more common and much less serious than the bacterial variety. It’s the bacterial meningitis that you hear about in the news. It evolves quickly, which is part of what makes it so dangerous. Symptoms are similar to those of the flu. In older kids, a combination of the following symptoms is something to call a doc about: a stiff neck, severe pain and aches in your back and joints, sleepiness or confusion, a bad headache, sensitivity to light, very cold hands and feet, shivering, rapid breathing and red or purple spots on the skin that do not fade when you press on them.


The illness needs to be treated quickly and aggressively—that’s why, if you’re not feeling so hot and you have a combination of the above symptoms, you should get Mom or Dad, or even the babysitter if they aren’t home, to call your doctor ASAP. Treatment starts with antibiotics and can also include corticosteroids (to control pressure caused by the inflammation) and acetaminophen (to lower a fever).


Most kids today are vaccinated against some strains of meningitis, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune. It spreads easily through nasal secretions (nice thought, right?), making it pretty darn cinchy to pass along come cold season.


The easiest way to stay healthy, therefore, is to take the same precautions you would against the flu: Wash your hands, get plenty of sleep, don’t share your food and drink with other people (especially sickies), sanitize surfaces like cell phones regularly and eat well.


For more information on meningitis, head on over to Medical News Today.


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BY BRITTANY TAYLOR ON 12/4/2013 7:15:00 PM


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