If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is meningitis?
Meningitis is swelling of the tissue around your brain and spinal cord. There are two common types of meningitis. Viral meningitis is the most common. It can make you feel like you have the flu. Bacterial meningitis is more serious. It can cause brain damage or death if not treated early. Both types are spread through direct contact with an infected person, especially through sharing food and drink.
Symptoms can include:
- Stiff neck
- Low energy
- Poor appetite
- Feeling tired
- Sensitive to light
- Nausea and vomiting
Most people think it’s the flu. This delays treatment and puts you at greater risk for complications. Complications can occur within a few hours of the symptoms.
Watch for unusual signs of meningitis with a sick baby. These include:
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
- Problems sucking while taking a bottle or not feeding well
- Constant crying or high-pitched cry
- Bulge in the soft spot at the top of a newborn’s head
A serious case of untreated bacterial meningitis can cause stroke, hearing loss, permanent brain damage, and death.
Viral meningitis is caused by a group of viruses. This group is common in the late spring to fall. Not everyone who is infected with these viruses will develop meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis is caused by some of the same germs that cause pneumonia and strep throat. These germs also can cause a serious illness called sepsis. Sepsis is your body’s response to serious infection. It can cause your organs to fail, cause damage to your body’s tissue, and even death.
Both types are spread through direct contact with an infected person. This includes sharing food and drink with that person. Viral and bacterial meningitis affect people of all ages. Young babies and young people in close living quarters are more likely to get it. This includes students attending camps and living in college dorms.
Healthcare providers may take a sample of your child’s blood. Your healthcare provider also may take a sample of fluid from your child’s spine (also called spinal tap or lumbar puncture). If it is bacterial meningitis, further lab tests from the same sample will help your healthcare provider determine treatment.
In Nova Scotia and PEI, vaccinations to help protect against bacterial meningitis are given as part of the childhood immunization program.
To help prevent meningitis:
- Do not share food and drinks with others. This includes straws and eating utensils.
- Avoid touching certain things that can transmit the disease (dirty diapers, dirty tissues, used towels).
- Avoid hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is sick.
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands.
- Wash your hands with soap, regularly.
- Clean common objects (doorknobs, toys, strollers, high chairs, phones, computers, TV remote control).
- Stay home from school or work so you don’t infect others.
Fast response time is important in treating meningitis. If you suspect meningitis, get to a healthcare provider or hospital quickly. Healthcare providers can treat bacterial meningitis early with antibiotics. They also will treat the early symptoms. This includes giving IV fluids. This helps replace what they’ve lost from vomiting or not drinking. Also, they will give over-the-counter pain medicine (two brands: Tylenol, Motrin) for fever and headache. For milder cases of viral meningitis, you may only need rest and fluids. For more serious cases, a hospital stay may be required.
QUESTIONS TO ASK A HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- Is the removal of spinal fluid painful?
- Is my child at increased risk of meningitis at daycare?
- Is there a time of year when meningitis germs are at their worse?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Meningitis
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Meningitis