COMBATING INFECTION: An update on meningococcal meningitis
Elizabeth Heavey PhD, RN, CNM

October 2010 
Volume 40  Number 10
Pages 61 - 62
  PDF Version Available!

MENINGITIS IS AN inflammation of the meninges, several connective tissue sheaths that loosely suspend and protect the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation generally involves not only the meninges but the subarachnoid space and brain parenchyma as well.1 It's usually caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. This article focuses on acute bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis, referred to as meningococcal meningitis.Meningococcal meningitis is a highly contagious and severe disease that can progress to severe neurologic complications, vascular collapse, and death in less than 24 hours.2N. meningitidis accounts for 25% of all cases of bacterial meningitis.1People who haven't completed the full series of recommended childhood vaccines, including children under age 5, are at the greatest risk for developing bacterial meningitis.2 Before the development of effective vaccines, the incidence of bacterial meningitis was highest among young children. With widespread implementation of the childhood vaccination schedule, however, incidence has shifted; now the incidence of all types of bacterial meningitis is greater among preteens and young adults.2In a large population-based study, mortality from bacterial meningitis caused by N. meningitidis was 10% to 15%.2 Teenagers and young adults ages 15 to 24 were six times more likely to die from the infection compared with those under age 15; however, the mortality was still highest among infants.3Infection rates are highest for meningococcal meningitis in February and March, with a seasonal low in September.4Meningococcal meningitis is highly contagious. People with compromised immune systems, those living in group settings (such as college dormitories or military units), people who are asplenic or who have spleen damage, and those attending group childcare facilities have a greater risk of acquiring the disease. Several genetic conditions also increase the risk, as does travel to areas

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