Janet Marshall is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Living section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter. She thinks most things are fine in moderation.
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Which one is the bad meningitis?
Meningitis is never good, but not all cases are equally risky. So when I read in The Free Lance-Star earlier this week that two students in Caroline County were diagnosed with meningitis, I turned to one of my favorite websites, mayoclinic.com, for a primer. In case you’re curious, here’s an overview based on information from the site:
- Meningitis involves inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord.
- Most cases are caused by a virus, but some are caused by a bacteria.
- Viral meningitis is generally the least harmful kind and often clears up on its own, usually within a week or two. It can make you feel miserable but generally isn’t too serious.
- Bacterial meningitis is the scary kind. It can be deadly and requires quick treatment with antibiotics to lower the risk of death or serious complications, including brain damage.
- Infrequently, a fungal infection can cause meningitis.
- Viral meningitis is most common in young children, while bacterial meningitis is more common in college students and in places where large groups of teens and young adults congregate in close quarters.
- Symptoms include a high fever, stiff neck, headache, sensitivity to light, nausea, skin rash, seizures and lack of interest in eating and drinking.
The complications of meningitis can be severe, so if you suspect you or a family member has it, see a doctor right away. To learn more, visit mayoclinic.com and type “meningitis” in the search box.
Dr. Brooke Rossheim, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District, also recommends checking out this fact sheet from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/encephalitis_meningitis/detail_encephalitis_meningitis.htm
Rossheim said this afternoon that both students — one of whom had bacterial meningitis, and the other viral — have improved and that the health department has heard of no additional cases related to the students’ sicknesses.
As a side note, there are lots of legitimate websites with good medical information on meningitis and other health problems. Excellent sites include webmd.com, cdc.gov and health.nih.gov. The Mayo Clinic’s site is one of my favorites because of the simple, clean way information is presented; the succinct language used in describing medical issues; and the ease with which you can search for information by topic.