High School Senior’s Passing From Meningitis Reminds Us of the Severity of Meningitis
Helen Wamey, a Senior at Marist Catholic School in Atlanta, recently passed away due to an acute bacterial meningitis infection. In a recent post, Helen’s school said, “Helen was a beloved member of our school community who will be deeply missed by all…We pray for the repose of Helen’s soul and for her family and friends, uplifting them and each other as we come together to find strength in one another and our God, who is our comfort in times of sorrow”.
According to the Mayo Clinic, meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This inflammation may be caused by a viral, bacterial, parasitic, or fungal infection. Most cases of meningitis in the United States are caused by viral infections. People who contract viral meningitis usually experience a mild onset of symptoms which they recover from without medical treatment within a few weeks. The most common agents of viral meningitis infection are enteroviruses, in the late summer and early fall months, as well herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps virus, West Nile virus. Bacterial meningitis however, is a different case.
Though bacterial meningitis is much less prevalent than viral meningitis, it is much more serious than its counterpart. Bacterial meningitis occurs when bacteria travels to the brain and spinal cord via the bloodstream, sometimes even directly invading the meninges. The spread of bacteria such as this can be caused by an ear or sinus infection, a crack in the skull, contamination in surgery, contact with a carrier, or even through contaminated food and drink. Bacterial meningitis is most commonly caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), Haemophilus influenzae (haemophilus), and Listeria monocytogenes (listeria).
Symptoms of acute bacterial meningitis present themselves similarly to those of the flu, such as sudden high fever, stiff neck, severe headache, and nausea and vomiting. Symptoms take anywhere between a few hours to a few days to develop after exposure to the bacteria. If you or a loved one experience the symptoms of meningitis infection, especially severe and unrelenting headache and neck stiffness, it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately. Acute bacterial meningitis is aggressive and can cause permanent brain damage or death within days.
Those living in communities, like dormitories, or in close quarters for large amounts of time, such as in schools, are at a higher risk for contracting meningitis. The best prevention of bacterial meningitis in teens is to practice good hygiene: wash your hands regularly, especially after using the restroom and before eating, do not share food or drink or personal items such as lip balm, tooth brushes, or eating utensils.
For more information on meningitis, and its prevention and treatment, visit the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).