The central nervous system is made up of the brain and the spinal cord, and it has a protective layer of a system of membranes called the meninges. However, these membranes can be invaded by an infection, which causes it to inflame and swell up. Such an infection is known as meningitis. Mostly, the infection is caused by a virus, and in a few cases, the infection is of a bacterial or fungal nature. And depending on the causal agent, the condition is known as viral, bacterial or fungal meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis, although rare, is known to be the most severe of all these types, as it can also lead to life-threatening complications. The bacteria that causes it, can either reach the brain and spinal cord via the blood stream, or they may directly infect the same because of ear infection or trauma to the skull. Common strains of bacteria that have been identified as the cause of bacterial meningitis include streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), haemophilus influenzae (haemophilus), and listeria monocytogenes (listeria).
How is Bacterial Meningitis Transmitted?
Meningitis caused by bacteria is a contagious form of an infection, and spreads from the transmission of the bacteria from one person to another. This is why, teens, college students, and boarding-school students remain at a higher risk zone of developing this infection, as they spend most of their time in close quarters.
Acts such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, kissing, sharing eating utensils, towels or tissues, smoking from the same cigarette or glass, using the same toothbrush, etc., are the mode of transmission of the causal bacteria. This is because of the fact that all such activities, cause the fluid from the throat and nose of the infected person to come in contact with that of the other person's, thus serving as the carrier of the infection.
The infected fluid can be breathed in by the healthy person, or come in contact with the hands which eventually touch the nose or the mouth. However, anything such as a casual contact with the infected person does not transmit the bacteria.
Given the high chances of the condition to cause complications such as blindness, memory loss, loss of speech, learning disabilities, hearing loss, brain damage, and paralysis, intravenous application of antibiotics is the first line of treatment to control the infection. Depending upon the strain of pathogen that has caused the infection, the patient can be treated with one antibiotic or a combinations of the same. In some cases, it might get difficult to determine the specific bacteria that has triggered the condition. So in such situations, the doctor prefers administering such an antibiotic that is meant for eliminating a broad range of bacteria.
Bacterial meningitis can be easily kept from spreading by following some simple personal hygiene measures. For a person who already has the infection, it is strongly advised that he/she uses proper covering while sneezing, or coughing. Washing hands thoroughly, especially before meals is the most important tool to keep oneself from contracting infection. Parents must be very keen to teach their kids why and how to keep their hands clean, even after petting animals, or having spent some time in a crowded place.
Inculcating a diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, regular exercises (at least 30 minutes daily), and having a good night sleep are some of the basic measures for keeping the immune system strong enough to fight off any kind of meningitis, and other such infections. Besides these measures, getting proper immunizations is also important, for preventing not all, but some strains of bacterial meningitis.