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World meningitis day, April 24, 2010

Autopsy photo revealing purulent inflamation of the meninges, beneath the dura, due to meningitis.
Autopsy photo revealing purulent inflamation of the meninges, beneath the dura, due to meningitis.
Photo: CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr., 1972

In Tuscaloosa, West Alabama and the rest of the world, April 24th, 2010, is World Meningitis Day.  This day is set aside in order to remember all of those who have been touched by meningitis, and to take stock of our personal and family levels of preparedness.

Meningitis is a condition in which the meninges suffer from inflammation.  The meninges are protective membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord, hence, the often used term spinal meningitis.  The inflammation is typically caused by an infectious process occurring in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.  However, meningitis may also be caused by some form of physical injury, cancer or certain drugs.

If meningitis is caused by an infectious process, it is usually due to bacteria, virus, fungus or parasites.  The treatment regimen will differ with each, so it is important to have an accurate diagnosis of the cause.  Bacterial meningitis is usually the most severe and can be caused by several different kinds of bacteria.  Infection with Neisseria meningitidis, a particular kind of bacteria, is often referred to as meningococcal disease.  It can be fatal in as many as 10% of cases and is always a medical emergency. Although it is a very serious infection, it can be treated with relatively common antibiotics.  Proper treatment will reduce the severity of the disease and reduce the person-to-person spread of the infection.

For a wide variety of reasons, anyone can contract meningitis.  Pre-teens, adolescents, college students living in dorms and travelers to countries where it is typically present are at a greater risk. Preventing the disease through vaccination is obviously the best strategy.  Meningococcal vaccines available today will protect against most types of meningococcal disease, yet they will not prevent all cases.

It’s important to know the risks and to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family. To learn more, visit the CDC Meningococcal Vaccine website or contact your local County Health Department.  If you need to locate a physician locally, you may wish to consult the DCH Health System Physician Directory.

Visit the Birmingham Health Technology Examiner for additional articles on infectious disease and health technology.


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