What is Meningitis:
Meningitis is a swelling of the protective membrane that covers the brain and the spinal cord. This is a serious condition commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
Generally, bacteria that enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain and spinal cord cause bacterial meningitis. But it can also occur when bacteria directly invade the meninges from an ear or sinus infection, skull fracture and rarely some surgeries.
There are five different bacterial strains of meningitis named A, B, C, Y and W. Since the 1940s, outbreaks of bacterial meningitis have been recorded in several areas across Canada.
Meningitis B is the deadliest strain of meningitis. While not common (cases average between 150 and 250 people per year), it is particularly harmful to adolescents and young adults. Based on statistics, 1 in 10 people who contract meningitis B will die.
Who is at Risk:
Anyone can get meningitis, but certain people are at higher risk.
These at-risk people include:
- Infants younger than a year of age
- Young adults ages 16 – 23
- People with medical conditions that affect their immune system
Symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically, they develop within 3-7 days after exposure.
When presenting to a health care professional, it is important that you described the sequence of symptoms from the beginning, which helps explain the infection’s progression.
Beginning symptoms include:
- Severe headache
- High temperature
- Feeling lethargic and not thinking clearly
- Severe back pain
- Severe neck pain
More severe symptoms include:
- Purplish rash
- Loss of consciousness
How/Where is it Spread:
The bacteria is transmitted through saliva. This can occur by sharing utensils while eating, kissing, sharing alcoholic beverages, sharing marijuana joints and cigarettes and being in crowded areas such as at University or sports meets or when partying.
It is believed that up to 10% of the population have this bacteria in their upper respiratory tract; however, it doesn’t cause them to become sick. These people are called ‘carriers’. When it is transmitted to someone else, it can lead to meningitis.
We also see cases of meningitis after the flu season, possibly due to widespread illness and weakness following the flu infection.
How to Prevent Infection:
In Canada, there are three vaccines to protect against the different strains of meningitis.
The vaccine that protects against the B bacteria is not routinely administered in Canada but can be prescribed by your doctor. Your healthcare provider can advise you as to what vaccinations you have received.
In April 2023, as a province, PEI announced that the Meningitis B vaccine will be funded for students attending a post-secondary school and living in residence in PEI or out-of-province. Additionally, Nova Scotia recently announced it will fully fund the Meningitis B vaccination for Nova Scotian youths from 25 and under who are:
- Entering post-secondary studies and will be in a congregate living setting (such as a dormitory or other residence) operated by a post-secondary institution for the first time.
- First-time military recruits who will be living in a congregate setting such as military barrack.
Getting vaccinations that cover you against all types of meningitis is the best way to protect yourself.
Recognizing the symptoms, presenting them quickly to a health care provider if you suspect you might have meningitis and offering a clear history of the sequence of the symptoms can help establish the diagnosis and carry out the necessary tests and start early treatment.
Talk to your Pharmacist or Healthcare Provider:
Public knowledge of the meningitis B vaccine is limited, and the vaccine is sometimes inaccessible for families who want it. One child lost is simply one too many, especially for a preventable illness that can be so dangerous.
It is imperative to remain vigilant about your or your child’s health condition. Your Healthcare provider is an important resource to ensure your wellness and safety. In an emergency, call 811 (Healthline) for medical advice or go to a hospital.