Back in 2009, three school-aged kids in metro Detroit were the victims of bacterial meningitis. Now, four years later, the often-deadly disease has reemerged in Michigan. The Oakland County Health Division (OCHD) reported that a student from East South Lyon High School was undergoing treatment for an unknown strain of bacterial meningitis on Oct. 2, 2013.
The child, whose identity was never disclosed under laws protecting personal health information, underwent medical care, which reportedly prevented the spread of the disease.
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the fluid around the spinal cord or brain caused by bacteria. Also known as meningococcal disease, its symptoms include fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck and back, confusion, extreme weakness, seizure, coma and bulging soft spots on the heads of babies. The OCHD adds that the illness can appear one to 10 days after exposure.
It's usually severe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can cause complications such as brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities.
Tips for prevention
Practicing healthy habits helps prevent the spread of bacterial meningitis. The OCHD recommends:
- Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing – or turn away when coughing.
- Immediately throw away used tissues, followed by careful hand washing.
- Avoid sharing objects if they have been in the mouth (pacifiers, toys, silverware, etc.); wash objects in hot, soapy water between uses.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after coughing, sneezing or touching common surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards and telephones. You can also use alcohol-based hand cleaners.
Dr. Chokechai Rongkavilit, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, says that the most important precaution for parents to take is to make sure that children receive the age-appropriate, up-to-date vaccinations. Also, because the disease is spread by bodily secretions – such as saliva – he says it is important to practice good personal hygiene, particularly hand hygiene.
"It is a pretty serious disease. It can be deadly," he says. "Symptoms come on rapidly and can include high fever, stiff neck, sleepiness, seizure, and nausea and vomiting."
Rongkavilit says places like day-care centers are at a higher risk for spreading infection and says it is important that children who may be infected should stay home.