How can meningitis be prevented?
As with most viral and bacterial infections, there are steps you can take in your everyday life to minimise the risk of contracting meningitis. These include:
- Hygiene habits: One of the simplest ways for bacteria and other infection causing organisms to spread is through poor hygiene. Practicing good hygiene habits and careful hand-washing, especially before and after using a toilet facility, before eating, after handling animals or pets and spending time in crowded public spaces. Be mindful of sharing foods, drinks, eating utensils, toothbrushes lipsticks and other lip care products with others too. If you cough or sneeze, get into the habit of covering your nose and mouth – this will minimise any infection transmission risk to others around you.
- Protect your immune system: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, nutritious diet and getting plenty of rest and sleep is essential for the function of your immune system. If you are in good health, your body is in peek condition to protect you from harmful infection.
- Pregnancy and food choices: The presence of bacteria in some foodstuffs can be highly dangerous for a pregnant woman and her developing baby. A pregnant woman should take care with consuming deli meats (and opt for meat that is properly cooked) and avoid cheeses unless clearly labelled as being made with pasteurised milk.
- Vaccinations: In most bacterial meningitis instances, immunisations can prevent infections. Depending on where in the world you reside, some recommended vaccinations (with some encouraged from as early as 2 months of age), include Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) and the Meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Some vaccines will require booster shots at specific times and ages as well.
What is the difference between meningitis and meningococcal disease?
The underlying bacterial infection cause and symptoms are incredibly similar, but there is a difference.
Meningococcal disease is also known as meningococcus. It is also caused by the Neisseria meningiditis bacteria. The infection, like bacterial meningitis, also affects the meninges. The difference is that meningococcal disease also typically develops one of two bloodstream infections, known as septicaemia or bacteremia. The more severe of the two is septicaemia, resulting in meningococcal septicaemia or meningococcemia.
Once the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they multiply, causing bleeding under the skin and in the organs. This infection can rapidly damage the walls of the body’s blood vessels. Symptoms of meningococcal disease include fever, vomiting, fatigue, the chills, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, severe pain or aches in the chest, abdomen, muscles and joints, diarrhoea and a dark purple rash.
Meningococcal disease is incredibly serious and develops rapidly. It can be fatal in as little as a few hours. Even if treated, permanent disabilities, impairments and other ailments can occur.
Is it possible to still get meningitis after being vaccinated?
Not all underlying causes of meningitis are protected by the vaccine. It is possible that you can still get meningitis from a different strain (viral, bacterial, fungal etc.) even if you have been vaccinated against an infection. The risk of falling ill with meningococcal meningitis (bacterial) is significantly reduced if you have been vaccinated.
Is there an incubation period for meningitis and how long is it?
An incubation period (the period of time between exposure to an infection and showing the first signs of illness) is largely dependent on the cause of a meningitis infection. If infected with bacterial meningitis, the incubation period is generally between 2 and 10 days. Symptoms for viral meningitis can last between 7 and 10 days (an infected person can be contagious for between 3 and 10 days after symptoms develop).
For the majority of meningitis causes, the range of incubation can typically be anywhere between 2 days and 2 weeks.
It is best to discuss your individual incubation period with your doctor once diagnosed. The diagnostic process will generally determine the underlying infection cause, and thus determine the time period you are likely to be ill and require recovery and treatment.