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Spring 2001 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Kate Moss, Family Specialist, TSBVI, Texas Deafblind Outreach

The 2001 Texas Deafblind Census data indicates that meningitis is one of the leading causes of deafblindness in our state. Recently in Texas there has been several scares related to outbreaks of meningitis. What is this disease and what are some of the concerns associated with it?

First of all, meningitis is not the same condition as encephalitis, although they both occur in the brain. Meningitis is the inflammation of the tissue lining of the brain and spinal cord, the meninges. Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain itself. There are two broad categories of meningitis, viral and bacterial.

Bacterial meningitis is more uncommon, but it can be extremely serious. Often times it is fatal, especially if not treated immediately. Those who survive this type of meningitis often have a severe disability as a result. Brain injury and deafness are two common results of this type of meningitis. Babies in the USA are typically vaccinated for one type of bacteria that causes meningitis, the haempohilus influenzae type b (Hib) strain. Because of this vaccination program, this type of meningitis has practically disappeared in this country. The other two types of meningitis are meningococcal and pneumococcal. Both of these bacteria are very common. In fact, at any one time, around 10 to 25% of the population are carrying this bacteria, which lives on the back of the throat and nose. Usually these bacteria do not cause any real problems.

A person who becomes sick with bacterial meningitis needs immediate medical treatment. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial meningitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, high fever, headache, and stiff neck are common symptoms of meningitis in anyone over the age of 2 years. "Symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to detect, and the infant may only appear slow or inactive, or be irritable, have vomiting, or be feeding poorly. As the disease progresses, patients of any age may have seizures." (CDC Website, 2001) A diagnosis is usually made with a spinal tap.

Viral meningitis is usually not as dangerous as bacterial meningitis although the symptoms often appear to be the same. About 90% of cases of viral meningitis are caused by a group of viruses known as enteroviruses. Herpes viruses and the mumps virus can also cause viral meningitis. There is no treatment for viral meningitis. People usually get well on their own with plenty of bedrest. They are simply given plenty of fluids and also medicine to treat the fever and headaches. Viral meningitis does usually not result in other disabling conditions and is rarely fatal.

A person may have meningitis more than one time, although this is rare. There are vaccines for some types of meningitis. Someone showing any symptoms of meningitis, should immediately see a doctor who can determine the type of meningitis present and begin treatment. Even with viral meningitis, severe problems can result from dehydration, especially in children and babies.

Both types of meningitis are spread through contact with respiratory and bodily secretions. That is why one of the best preventions for meningitis is regular and thorough hand washing. It is usually not spread through casual contact like sneezing or coughing.

When a person has meningitis, there is usually a long-term recovery period. There are also some problems which can be expected immediately following hospitalization for this illness and may disappear in time. In children we see many behavioral changes that may be due, in part, to the trauma of being in the hospital. These include babyish or clingy behavior, bed-wetting, temper tantrums, problems sleeping at night, and forgetting recently learned skills. There are other symptoms, however, that may last longer, or even be permanent. These include general fatigue, recurring headaches, problems concentrating, short-term memory loss, clumsiness, giddiness, balance problems, depression, violent temper outbursts, mood swings, bouts of aggression, learning difficulties, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), joint soreness or stiffness, visual problems such as double vision and cortical visual impairment, and the possibility of deafness, brain damage, or seizures as mentioned earlier. (Meningitis Foundation of American, 2001).


Meningitis Foundation of America Inc.
7155 Shadeland Station, Suite 190
Indianapolis, Indiana 46256-3922
Telephone: (800) 668-1129
Outside North America: (317) 595-6383

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
NIH Neurological Institute
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
Phone: (800) 352-9424

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30333
Telephone: (800) 311-3435