The definition of meningitis is any inflammation of the meninges or membranes of the central nervous system. This inflammation can be caused by any number of pathogens such as fungi, viruses, and bacteria. Bacteria is most commonly associated with the disease even though causative viruses can be more prevalent, but never discovered because the mildness of the symptoms. The study of meningitis dates back to the 1960’s when the causative organisms were discovered and treatments were developed.
Since then the mortality rate from bacterial meningitis has not changed much despite the introduction of new antibiotics and treatments (Hussein 360). In the case of bacterial meningitis no one casual organism causes all of the cases, but rather there are many that capable of causing it. Although there are many causal organisms, there are three that are most prevalent in cases diagnosed. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common causative agent in the Untied States causing 30-50% of all cases.
In recent years many strains of S.pneumoniae have become drug-resistant which makes treatment very difficult and increases the mortality rate. Neisseria meningitidis is the second leading cause of meningitis in the Untied States and first in many parts of Africa. It causes 15-40% of cases depending on location. The third leading cause is from the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae. It causes about 2-7% depending on location. This form is usually found in young children. The occurrence of meningitis caused by H. influenzae has decreased in recent years due to a vaccine given to children in the first few months of life (Philips 110-111).
Transmission of the causative organism occurs by contact of respiratory droplets from an infected person to an uninfected host. It is not as contagious as something like the flu or common cold, but prolonged exposure to an infected individual greatly increases the chance for infection. Most infections occur as a result of a previous, usually viral, infection. This infection lowers the body’s immune response and the causative organism can enter the cerebrospinal fluid through the blood brain barrier and reproduce with immune system directed at the previous infection.
The bacteria make their way into the cerebrospinal fluid though a complex system of actions that is aided by the weakened immune system. The immune system inside the cerebrospinal fluid is very weak and depends on the rest of the body to keep out harmful pathogens. When the bacterium enters the cerebrospinal fluid, it can reproduce easily and can cause many problems including infection of the brain (Leib 530-540). Bacterial meningitis can be characterized by a number of symptoms, but may differ in adults and children.
Children have more occurrence of an upper respiratory infection where as adults are noted to have a fever. In both children and adults, symptoms include: Nausea, vomiting, headache, photophobia, neck and back pain, and a stiff neck. Petechiae, red spots on appendages, are found on most adults and a key symptom that can identify meningitis. There can be serious complications of the disease such as hearing loss, mental retardation, and death (Kaplan 580-583). Bacterial meningitis can be treated if diagnosed in time.
Antibiotics are used in high doses and can effectively eradicate the bacteria from the host. Cephlosporins and sulfa drugs can be used to effectively treat most forms of causal organisms. The key to treatment is the promptness of administration. If treatment is slowed permanent side effects could develop into serious debilitations (CDC). Prevention of meningitis has become more effective in recent years. Vaccines for H. influenzae have been developed and greatly reduced the incidence in children. Vaccines are now being developed for N. meningitidis and are available for adults.
This is the best way to prevent meningitis from occurring. It is also important to stay away from an infected person. When prolonged exposure to an infected person has occurred, individuals that had the exposure should take preventative antibiotics such as rifampins to stop the bacteria from infecting (CDC). Normal flora is an important part to this disease. In cases when a viral infection precedes the infection of the bacteria, normal flora already in the body such as Streptococcus pneumoniae can invade by opportunity and cause the disease.
It is important to get vaccinated especially if an individual is in a high-risk environment such as dorms in college. This close space could easily cause an epidemic on campus, but this epidemic can also be stopped before it happens. Prevention is the key for this particular disease and with the right prevention its occurrence could become less prevalent and cause less mortality than it does today.
Bibliography: Centers for Disease Control. Meningococcal Disease. www. cdc. gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/menigococcal_g. htm. Accessed November 10, 2001.Hussein, Ahmed and Shafran, Stephen. Acute Bacterial Meningitis in Adults. Medicine 79 (2000): 360-68. Kaplan, Sheldon. Clinical Presentations, Diagnosis, and Prognostic Factors of Bacterial Meningitis. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America 13 September 1999: 579-93. Leib, Stephen and Tauber, Martin. Pathogenesis of Bacterial Meningitis. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America 13 September 1999: 527-45. Philips, Elizabeth and Simor, Andrew. Bacterial Meningitis in Children and Adults. Postgraduate Medicine 103 March 1998: 102-117.