What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is not a single specific disease. It is an inflammation (swelling and soreness) of the meninges. The meninges are the membranes (layers of tissue) that cover the brain and spinal cord. Although many different germs can cause in infection, it is most often caused by the bacteria meningococci

Meningitis may follow head injuries and infections, or it may be a complication that comes with such diseases as tuberculosis, whooping cough, pneumonia, influenza, and scarlet fever.

In most cases, the bacteria enter the body through the throat. Some people may carry the bacteria in their throats without becoming sick. These people, called “carriers”, help to spread the infection.

Infants and children are more likely to be infected. Every five or ten years there may be an epidemic with many cases of illness. The germs first grow in the blood, causing fever and chills and usually a red rash on the skin.

Soon the germs settle in the meninges and cause the inflammation. When this happens there is pressure in the head which the patient feels as a severe headache. Next the neck becomes stiff. The patient holds his neck as still as possible ; any attempt to bend it forward result in great pain.

The patient often becomes confused or even unconscious and vomits. He may have convulsions, twitching, and jerking of the body which he cannot control. In fighting this condition, doctors usually use the “sulfa” drugs and antibiotics. They have cut the death rate of the disease to about 20 percent. Without treatment, about three quarters of the patients would die.

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