(CNN Spanish) — Meningitis is an infection that, despite being preventable with vaccination, affects millions of people worldwide every year, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Likewise, it is considered a serious disease with a high mortality rate that goes from 10% and increases to 50% if it is accompanied by sepsis.
Due to its seriousness, it is important to know more details about this disease, which is being sought to reduce cases in the Americas by 2030 by 50% and deaths by 70%.
What is meningitis and what causes this disease?
Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain or the layers that protect the brain and is usually caused by infections, said Dr. Felipe Lobelo in an interview with CNN.
These infections can be caused by “viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, even in some cases due to a reaction to drugs or other inflammatory factors,” Lobelo commented.
Therefore, “there is not a single cause, but rather there are several causes of meningitis,” he added.
Whether the condition is caused by a bacterial, viral, fungal, or other infection, the symptoms of meningitis include:
- Strong headache
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Photophobia (discomfort when seeing light)
- Neck stiffness
- high fever
- General discomfort
- Drowsiness or difficulty waking up
- Lack of appetite or thirst
- Skin rash in some cases
The Mayo Clinic indicates that the above symptoms are for anyone over the age of two. If the age is less than that, the symptoms are:
- High fever
- Constant crying (baby may cry more when held)
- Very sleepy or irritable
- difficulty waking up
- inactivity or laziness
- Inability to wake up to eat
- poor nutrition
- A fontanelle bulge (soft spot) on the top of the baby’s head
- Stiffness in the body and neck
Dr. Lobelo noted that the symptoms of meningitis can progress until they become something more serious “that is obviously going to need medical help.”
In general, it is recommended to see the doctor immediately when you notice fever, severe headache that does not go away, confusion, vomiting and stiff neck.
It should be noted that symptoms can appear 3 to 7 days after infection.
What happens if I don’t go to the doctor?
As Dr. Lobelo pointed out, medical help is necessary when symptoms are detected.
However, the longer a person goes without adequate treatment, the greater their risk of long-term complications or even death.
“The longer you or your child go without treatment for the disease, the greater the risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage,” explains the Mayo Clinic.
These permanent damages can be:
- hearing loss
- Memory problems
- learning difficulty
- Brain damage
- walking problems
- Renal insufficiency
Dr. Lobelo said there are now good antifungal medications to treat meningitis that develops from a fungal infection.
However, first a blood or cerebrospinal fluid test must be done to find out exactly what is causing the infection and then the best treatment can be prescribed.
Steroids are also used to reduce inflation, the doctor added.
In the case of bacterial meningitis, the condition can be treated with antibiotics, depending on the bacteria that caused the infection.
The Mayo Clinic notes that some meningitis caused by bacteria can be prevented with vaccines, such as Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or PCV15), pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) and the meningococcal serogroup B (MenB) vaccine.
In any case, it is necessary for boys and girls to complete their vaccination scheme against meningitis, since this way they avoid contracting this condition.