FACTS: Meningitis is technically an inflammation of the meninges, or the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can be extremely dangerous.
There are a number of viral and bacterial causes of meningitis, but Neisseria meningitidis is the most common cause of the more serious bacterial meningitis in children (who are most susceptible to the disease), and one of the most common in adults. It is quite contagious, and often spreads through groups of close quartered individuals such as children in daycare-settings, college students, and military personnel.
The signature symptoms of meningitis include a severe headache and stiff neck – which, in extreme cases, can cause sufferers to arch backwards – as well as fevers and chills, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and sometimes purple or red splotches on the skin.
Spinal taps can be used to confirm suspected cases of meningitis. However, because N. meningitidis infections are responsive to antibiotics, precautionary treatments are often prescribed before test results are confirmed. (Those who have been in close contact with suspected carriers are also at risk and can be treated as well.)
And it's important to do so. Untreated, meningitis can lead to brain damage, loss of hearing – and even death.
Fortunately, there are also now a variety of vaccines that can provide some protection against certain forms of meningitis. So use your head, and stay clear of this excruciating pain in the neck.
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