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Dr. Campbell on meningitis: knowing the causes and symptoms

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Dr. Kevin Campbell sits down with WNCN to talk about meningitis, including what it is and what causes it.

First, bacterial meningitis is an infection of the lining around the brain called the meninges. It can be deadly and can be associated with outbreaks in schools and college campuses.

It can be caused by both viruses and bacteria. Viruses are the most common cause and these cases are not readily contagious, but the most serious cases are caused by bacterial. Bacterial infections can be very serious and can result in death. It is essential that patients receive prompt diagnosis and treatment when they are suspected to have meningitis.

Meningitis can be difficult to recognize as it sometimes comes just following a flu like illness and can easily be confused with the flu.

Other causes include non-infectious causes as well as parasites and fungal infections—these are much more rare.

Symptoms of meningitis

  • Fever
  • Severe, persistent headache
  • Neck stiffness and pain that makes it difficult to touch your chin to your chest
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and disorientation (acting "goofy")
  • Drowsiness or sluggishness
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Poor appetite
  • More severe symptoms include seizure and coma

In infants, symptoms may include fever, irritability, poor feeding, and lethargy.

In the United States, about 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, including 500 deaths, occurred each year between 2003 and 2007

If you suspect your child may have meningitis?

If you suspect that your child or someone you know has meningitis, seek medical care right away.

  • Call the doctor and describe the signs and symptoms.
  • Go immediately to the nearest emergency room if a doctor is not reachable right away. The person who is sick should not drive. Call 911 if transportation is not available.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Viral meningitis may improve without treatment, but bacterial meningitis is serious, can come on very quickly and requires prompt antibiotic treatment to improve the chances of a recovery. Delaying treatment for bacterial meningitis increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death. In addition, bacterial meningitis can prove fatal in a matter of days.

To make the diagnosis your doctor will likely do a spinal tap and examine the fluid around the spinal cord and brain. However, while waiting for the test to return, the doctor will most likely begin antibiotics empirically.

If you are exposed to a person with meningitis, contact your doctor. For people exposed to certain types of meningitis, Antibiotics may be recommended for close contacts

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