Meningitis is an infection of the fluid surrounding a person’s spinal cord and brain. It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Bacterial infection can result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, or death. Symptoms commonly include a high fever, headache, and stiff neck in individuals over the age of 2. These symptoms can develop over several hours or may take 1 to 2 days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants, symptoms may only include inactivity, irritability, vomiting, or poor feeding. As the disease progresses, any age individual may have seizures.

Viral meningitis is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. Fortunately, it is not as contagious as colds or the flu. Sometimes the bacteria spreads to people who have had close or prolonged contact with a patient such as in a household or day care center. College students living in dormitories are a group of particular concern. It is critical that treatment with appropriate antibiotics be started very early in the course of the disease.

Vaccinations to prevent meningitis are now available for individuals ages 11 to 55. Please contact your health care provider for specific instruction regarding your child.