Meningitis or Meningococcal disease is a rare infection that causes an inflammation of the meninges. The meninges are the three membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It can occur when fluid surrounding the meninges becomes infected and this can lead to a severe swelling of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the bloodstream (septicemia that can lead to sepsis).

The most common causes of meningitis are viral and bacterial infections. Other causes may include:

  • cancer
  • chemical irritation
  • fungi
  • drug allergies

Some viral and bacterial meningitis are contagious. They can be transmitted by coughing, sneezing or close contact.

1 out of every 10 people with meningitis will die even with treatment and out of those who survive, there is a probability that most will suffer from serious and permanent complications including brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and amputation of arms, legs, fingers, or toes.

Fortunately, there are vaccines available that have prevented almost all cases of Haemophilus influenzae type b Meningitis and greatly reduced the number of cases of pneumococcal meningitis in children.

Here are 5 things you may not know about Meningitis:

  1. There is more than one cause of Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, caused by a bacterial or viral infection. While there are other causes like injuries, cancer, certain drugs, and other types of infections, the most common cause worldwide includes five strains of meningococcal bacteria - A, B, C, W, and Y. These strains are also called serogroups; and serogroup A is now extremely rare in the USA.

2. You need more than one Meningitis vaccination to protect against all 5 strains

Did you know that there are two meningitis vaccines in the market? The two meningococcal vaccines are:

  1. Meningococcal conjugate (or MenACWY) vaccines
  2. Serogroup B meningococcal (or MenB) vaccine

The two meningococcal vaccines provide protection against all the five strains or serogroups that cause most meningococcal disease (i.e. serogroups A, B, C, W, and Y).

3. Meningitis can strike quickly and its impact can last a lifetime

Bacterial and viral Meningitis can be deadly. Most of those who survive bacterial meningitis often suffer one or more permanent complications including brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and amputation of arms, legs, fingers, or toes. While viral meningitis is typically less serious than bacterial meningitis, it can still have long-lasting after-effects, such as headaches, fatigue and memory problems.

4. College students are at higher risk of contracting Meningitis B

In recent years, there have been several outbreaks and isolated cases on US college campuses for Meningitis B or Meningococcal B. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that college freshmen are seven times more likely to contract meningitis than the rest and that it occurred 23 times more frequently in students living in dormitories than those living outside the campus.

5. Public health groups are investigating co-infection cases of COVID-19 and Meningitis

In March 2020, a young girl complaining of a headache was tested positive for strep throat and prescribed antibiotics. She was later tested positive for Covid-19. She had later developed a rare form of Meningitis. What is interesting to note is that a similar case of co-infection was reported in a 24 year old male in the Wuhan region in China.