What is Bacterial Meningitis?

Learn about bacterial meningitis, how to identify the signs and symptoms of meningitis and how to prevent bacterial meningitis in kids.

The Oakland County Health Division (OCHD) recently reported a case of bacterial meningitis in a Macomb County resident who works at the Life Time Fitness in Rochester Hills. Approximately 200 children attending a summer camp program at the gym during the beginning of July 2016 may have been exposed, according to a report from Click On Detroit, and are being encouraged to see a doctor.

This isn’t the first time metro Detroit has seen reports of bacterial meningitis in recent years. Back in 2009, three school-aged kids in metro Detroit were the victims of bacterial meningitis. Four years later, in 2013, the often-deadly disease reemerged in our area when it was reported that a student from East South Lyon High School was undergoing treatment for an unknown strain of bacterial meningitis. The child, whose identity was never disclosed under laws protecting personal health information, underwent medical care, which reportedly prevented the spread of the disease.

What is bacterial meningitis? Here’s what parents need to know about the disease, what signs and symptoms to look for and how to prevent bacterial meningitis in your family.

Disease defined

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

The OCHD notes there are vaccines to protect babies, toddlers and children against the disease. In fact, a vaccine for meningococcus is recommended for kids ages 11-12 with a booster at 16.

Additionally, 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, a director pediatric infectious disease at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, California who formerly worked 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 daycare centers are at a higher risk for spreading infection and says it is important that children who may be infected should stay home.

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for 2016 by Megan Krueger.


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