Meningitis: First at Princeton, Now at UC Santa Barbara

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Meningitis can cause the head and neck to arch back. Photo by  L.A. Marty, M.D, Kansas City.

Meningitis can cause the head and neck to arch as you see in this photo. Photo by L.A. Marty, M.D, Kansas City.

Doctors have now diagnosed three students with bacterial meningitis at UC Santa Barbara. The first case was a male who was diagnosed on November 11, 2013. The third, a female student, has the university stepping up its cleaning procedures in the residence halls, recreation centers, and sports facilities, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Meningitis In The News

Meningitis is an infection that infects the meninges (membranes) if the brain and spinal cord. Most cases of meningitis are from a virus and people get better without treatments; however, bacterial meningitis is a serious medical condition that requires antibiotics and sometimes hospitalization. Chemical irritation, drug allergies, fungi, parasites, and tumors can also cause meningitis, according to Medline Plus.

Signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis include fever, chills, change in mental status, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, severe headache,and a stiff neck. Other signs and symptoms that may not be as common include, agitation, decreased alertness, rapid breathing, and an unusual posture, with the head and neck arched backwards. Symptoms generally come on quickly and you should seek medical care immediately if you or a loved one shows these signs.

If your doctor suspects you have meningitis from doing a physical exam, then he or she will order a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap that uses a needle remove a sample of cerebral spinal fluid to determine if you have meningitis and whether it is viral or bacterial. Diagnosis may also require blood work, CT scan of the head, and a chest x-ray.

Meningitis Complications and Treatment

Even with treatment, meningitis can cause complications that can last the rest of your life, such as seizures, brain damage, hearing loss, and swelling of the brain. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential in preventing permanent neurological damage; doctors will give antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, as well as IV fluids to prevent dehydration, and medications to treat any complications that arise such as seizures or swelling of the brain.

Cerebral spinal fluid is collected to determine if a person has meningitis. Image by: James Heilman, MD

Doctors collect cerebral spinal fluid to determine whether you have meningitis. Image by: James Heilman, MD

Mengitis B Strain: Vaccine Preventable?

There are five types of bacterial meningitis, A, B, C, Y, W-135 and there are vaccines approved in the United States to prevent all these strains except for group B meningitis. Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) are three vaccines that pediatricians provide to babies and children, these vaccines provide protection against certain strains of bacterial meningitis, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The B strain is the only type of bacterial meningitis that does not have a vaccine, yet here in the states. In Europe and Australia, however, where the B strain is more common, a vaccine called Bexsero has been approved this year. Here in the United States, the vaccine Bexsero is still undergoing the approval process, but officials at Princeton University have approved it for students and staff after an eighth student has contracted the rare form of meningitis B.

B Strain Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is contagious and spreads via respiratory secretions such as coughing, sneezing, kissing, sharing drinks or utensils or close quarters such as kids share in college dorms. Thankfully, it is not as contagious as the flu, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take every precaution possible. Washing your hands often, covering your cough and sneezes, staying home when you are sick, and not sharing drinking glasses or utensils can go along way in preventing many illnesses.

More than 300 students at UC Santa Barbara that have had close contact with the three who have meningitis have been given antibiotics as a precaution and more testing is being done to determine if there are more cases.

Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial Meningitis. (2012). Accessed November 24, 2013.

LA Times. Third meningitis case confirmed among students at UC Santa Barbara(2013). Accessed November 24, 2013.

Medline Plus. Meningitis. (2012). Accessed November 24, 2013.

Tseng, Emily. Updated: Eighth case of meningitis at Princeton reported; will not affect vaccination plans. (2013). Princetonian. Accessed November 24, 2013.

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