Managing the Menace of Meningitis: Tips for Teens
As a parent, you might often need to remind your kids to blow their nose, wash their hands and take care of themselves when they’re sick with a cold or flu. It’s important to remind them to take these precautions to avoid more serious conditions like meningococcal meningitis.
While the infection is rare, meningitis can be serious and spread in shared spaces from classrooms to dorm rooms.
What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is a disease that causes inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord. If left untreated, this swelling can interfere with blood flow, and can ultimately lead to stroke or paralysis.
“Meningitis is a very serious infection,” says Rima Himelstein, M.D. an adolescent medicine specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “Most people recover from meningitis. However, permanent disabilities such as hearing loss, brain damage and learning disabilities can result.”
Meningitis symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. Never downplay or ignore any symptoms that could indicate meningitis; early detection and treatment are critical. If left untreated, death can occur in as little as a few hours.
“While anyone can get meningitis, certain types of meningitis are more common in teenagers and young adults and can be easily spread by sharing drinking glasses and utensils, kissing, or living in close quarters like in dormitories at college,” Himelstein says. “Children under the age of five and adults over 55 years old are also at increased risk.”
Some cases of meningitis can go away on their own but it’s important to see a doctor if you think you or your child may have it. If you or your child has been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with meningitis, talk to your doctor right away. Your doctor will evaluate the situation and may recommend taking antibiotics as a precaution.
Some schools and colleges require students to get a meningitis vaccine before starting classes. It can also be important for teens that might be leaving home for a period of time, such as for camp or travel.
There are two different meningitis vaccines and teenagers should get both. The first vaccination protects against meningitis types ACWY and is given at ages 11 or 12 years, with a booster shot at age 16. The other vaccination protects against meningococcal type B and is given at 16 years or older. A booster shot is then given at least one month after.
Stop the Spread of Germs
Washing hands is a basic step for preventing infections in general and can be especially important for protecting against meningitis. Encourage good personal hygiene by not sharing glasses, water bottles, utensils or makeup.
“Keeping up with a healthy lifestyle such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and avoiding drugs and alcohol is not only important for good health in general but also in keeping in your immune system strong. A strong immune system can help protect against meningitis and other infections,” Himelstein says.