Bacterial meningitis is a special type of meningitis. It is special, not because it is the most common type, but because it is the most fatal. For this reason, scientists work day and night to improve the effectivity of vaccines that protect against this type of meningitis as well as the treatments and preventative measures against the dangerous outcome of this disease, which can rapidly reach death.
As the name suggests, bacterial meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges that surround the brain, caused by some kind of bacteria. There are many types of bacteria that can cause meningitis, but the most common types are strains of streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitis, and Haemophilus influenza among other less common types. Scientists classify bacterial meningitis in various ways, and one of them is according to the age group of patients. We can categorize the population according the age group into newborn, infant and children, adults, and older adults.
Causes and risk factors
Each of these categories can get infected by any of the aforementioned bacteria, but each category is most commonly affected by a certain type that is most likely behind bacterial meningitis. Group B streptococcus and streptococcus pneumonia are the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in newborns. Newborns can also get bacterial meningitis by E. coli bacteria, which is special to this age group. Babies and children commonly get bacterial meningitis from streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitis and Haemophilus influenza type b. Haemophilus influenza type b is not famous for infecting the age group of young adults, though. Bacterial meningitis is fatal, but fortunately it is not a common disease to get if you have a general good health. However, your chance of getting bacterial meningitis increase if you have certain risk factors.
Being an infant or newborn is one of the risk factors because babies have under developed immune system which can’t still fight and stop infection good enough. This is why governments around the world and the World Health Organization pay a lot of attention to this age group, and scientists work on vaccines to protect them from getting this infection. Bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis mostly can spread from one person to another, which makes it contagious. This is why another risk factor is being in close contact with someone who have bacterial meningitis caused by bacteria that can spread easily from one person to another. This is why sometimes bacterial meningitis can cause epidemics, especially in crowd places. A fatal disease capable of create an epidemic deserves top attention in every health sector of every country.
Bacterial meningitis transmission
You can get bacterial meningitis by many ways, but the most common and fatal way is through air. Streptococcus pneumonia and Haemophilus influenza can spread from one person to another by coughing and sneezing, especially with enough close contact. Believe it or not, you can get bacterial meningitis through food!
Contaminated food by both Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli can cause bacterial meningitis, especially in people who have many risk factors.
Kissing and living together with someone who has bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitis can cause you to get infected with bacterial meningitis, too.
Babies can even get bacterial meningitis from their mother, and pregnant mothers can infect babies with group b streptococcus by giving birth. To prevent that, doctors make appropriate tests in pregnant and will give you the appropriate antibiotics to prevent this in case you have a bacteria.
Bacterial meningitis symptoms
Most of those bacteria reach the meninges through your blood. The infection usually starts in a place away from your brain, most likely your sinuses or throat. This is why bacterial meningitis can start with symptoms that resemble those you get with any sore throat or cold. But this is just the beginning, and the successive symptoms indicating that bacterial has already reached your meninges are high fever, headache and stiff neck.
Projectile vomiting is a characteristic sign of this infection in your meninges. You can also start feeling blurring in your eyes, and maybe you will feel confused as well. Once you feel or see those symptoms appear on an individual around you, seek medical care immediately. Noticing the disease is much more difficult in babies and young children because they can’t express that much. However, you can feel worried when you notice these symptoms in your baby: being slow or inactive unlike his usual self, being irritable unlike usual, vomit or feed poorly unlike usual.
Notice that having one or many of these symptoms doesn’t mean your baby have bacterial meningitis, but they may alert you along with others that something is wrong and it is advisable to seek medical help to feel assured. Symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear very rapid as short as hours, but typically it can take around 3 days to notice the full array of symptoms.
The most serious symptoms of bacterial meningitis are seizures and coma. At the clinic or hospital, doctors will hurry to take a blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples if they suspect bacterial meningitis to test for having a bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis. Knowing the type of infection that causes meningitis is crucial, because it determines the treatment you need to get better.
Bacterial meningitis treatment
The main treatment for bacterial meningitis is antibiotics, preferably the ones that specifically target the type of bacteria you have. We can avoid all of this by preventing the disease from occurring in the first place. The cost of treating financially and physically on any patient is huge, with a high risk of failing despite all the efforts. All of this leads us to doing our best to prevent this disease.
As high as 10 percent of people who get infected by bacterial meningitis don’t survive. The disease is not only fatal to the individual it infects, but the risk of spreading makes prevention an essential step for any country, especially because the most affected age group are our babies and infants. Complications of meningitis are worth mentioning as well, because even those who survive from this devastating infection can still live very hard life afterward.
Bacterial meningitis vaccine
Don’t worry, because vaccines come to the rescue. Fortunately, we have vaccines for this deadly disease that can effectively protect our children. We have 3 vaccines against the most 3 common types of bacteria that can cause bacterial meningitis: meningococcal vaccine help protect against Neisseria meningitis, pneumococcal vaccine can help protect against streptococcus pneumonia and Hib vaccine can help protect against Haemophilus influenza. Vaccines aren’t perfect, but they are good enough to make us feel more relieved. Up to half of the children who get the vaccine may feel pain or fever, which rapidly goes away.
All 11 to 12 year olds should get a single dose of a MenACWY vaccine. The CDC recommends a booster dose at age 16 as well. The booster dose gives teens continued protection during these ages, when they are at highest risk. We protect the babies from getting infection by type b streptococcus by treating the infected mother with the appropriate antibiotic once a positive case is detected. To prevent the listeria infection, pregnant mother are advised not to eat special types of food during their pregnancy, which may lead them to acquire listeria infection. Soft cheeses, for example, are not advised because they are made of unpasteurized milk, which is estimated to be up to 160 times more likely to cause listeria infection. This is why every pregnant mother should make sure that the dairy products she eats are from a trusted source to avoid her food being contaminated and they are made with pasteurized milk, which reduce the risk of getting infection. Raw sprouts also require humidity, considered the best condition if you want to grow bacteria as well. This is why eating raw sprouts can increase your risk of getting listeria infection, among other types of infections.
Bacterial meningitis precautions
To further reduce the burden of the disease, any close contact of infected patients should get a prophylactic antibiotic to protect them against bacteria that may have been transmitted. This prophylactic measure is performed to stop bacterial meningitis from spreading. It is worth noticing that meningitis is considered a seasonal disease, and the rates of infection increase in the winter season, especially on January, February and March. But the real question is whether or not these preventative measures work? Did the rate of infection dropped or it is just a big hoax?
Rates of meningococcal infection are declining in America since late 1990s. In 2017, there was only 350 total cases of meningitis, which is a great success that proves that we are on the right path. Unfortunately, this is still not the case for African countries. We have a termed meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa, where bacterial meningitis is still a serious and common condition. The rates are very high, up to 1000 cases for every 100,000 people, and major epidemics are very commonly occurring as short as every 5 years. They also have a special type of bacteria than other countries, which is serogroup A accounting for 90% of meningococcal disease cases, and the majority of large-scale epidemics. But the World Health Organization is doing its best to stop this devastating disease from causing more damage in these places.
Starting in 2010, meningitis belt countries began implementing mass vaccination campaigns for a monovalent serogroup a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenAfriVac®). Held in 22 of the 26 target countries as of December 2018, these campaigns vaccinated 1 through 29 year olds. In addition, 8 countries introduced the vaccine into the routine childhood immunization program. The statistics show that the number of infected people are declining, and epidemics are almost eliminated in many countries. On Europe, America, Australia and Egypt the most common serotype of the bacteria isn’t serotype A. Serotypes B, C, and Y are the most common, accounting for the majority of cases in Europe, America and Australia.
Handling bacteria isn’t that easy and they will not give up without fighting. As we progress in developing ways to prevent and treat the bacteria to stop bacterial meningitis, bacteria create resistance and changes its serotypes as a way of response. This is very clear, and can be seen in the Africa case. Following vaccination, the outbreaks decreased in frequency, but now we see the type of bacteria that causes meningitis is no longer serotype A but serotypes C and W.
We have even seen an outbreak of a not well-known serotype called serotype X. These cases prove that bacteria won’t surrender easily, and we need good and continuous surveillance to control the different strains that cause bacterial meningitis. We have to adapt fast to the changes as well if we want to keep the disease under control and stop the epidemics that might occur. Creating new and more effective vaccination schedules is required, and changing the regime of treatment in response to the new surveillance data we get is also important. For example, changing the vaccine we use in Africa or adding another vaccination after the change of serotypes we have witnessed. We now have to apply other vaccines to control the other common serotypes that started to cause epidemics. The World Health Organization has to collaborate and join efforts with the different African health ministries to adjust the regime and control bacteria by applying the appropriate vaccines for the serotypes that prevail in every country. Being always ready to adjust your regimes is what we need to stand together smart against this devastating disease.