Every year, approximately 600 to 1,000 people are diagnosed from meningococcal disease in the U.S, and only 15 percent die of people who get meningitis (Statistics). However, after surviving from meningococcal disease, patients have high risks that they will have to live with permanent disabilities. Nowadays, meningitis becomes a rare condition in the U.S. because of the improvement of the vaccine.
Comparing to the United States, many other countries in the world are still struggling with meningococcal disease. For instance, WHO reported a meningitis outbreak, which killed 545 people out of 8,234 meningitis patients in Nigeria (Reuters). Meningitis is an infectious disease that can spread through airborne droplets, so an outbreak from meningitis can turn out quickly to be an epidemic if the governments don’t get action. Also, many people have been mistaken the symptoms of meningitis with flu and haven’t got vaccinate for meningitis. Therefore, the most important concern is how to raise awareness among people to get vaccinate because meningococcal disease can easily spread out, especially in young ages from 11 to 24.
In general, meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Vieusseux, a Swiss physician, first discovered meningitis in 1805 during an outbreak in Switzerland. This disease is mostly caused by a viral infection, but the cause may also be a bacterial infection or fungal infection. The bacterial meningitis is the most serious illness because this disease occurs quickly and can cause death in a short period of time. Bacteria get into the body by bloodstream, begin in the ears, sinuses, or upper respiratory tract, and travel to the brain and spinal cord. There are several bacteria that can cause bacterial meningitis. The most common bacteria that cause meningitis in older children and adult include Neisseria meningitides and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Neisseria meningitides appears in the upper respiratory tract of the body. This bacterium is mainly transmittable throughout teenagers or young adult, so many students from colleges or high schools can be the targets. On June 1st, University of Oregon confirmed seven cases of meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitides. When the other six cases were students, the seventh case was a 52 father visiting his daughter on campus.
After 6 weeks from his last visit, the father contracted to the meningococcal disease because of his deadly bloodstream infection (Ravis). Streptococcus affects the ears and sinus, so many people mistaken that they only have flu when they are diagnosed with meningitis. Escherichia coli, Haemophilus influenzae (Hib), and Listeria monocytogenes are usually the causes of meningitis in newborn babies. Recently, the new Hib vaccines has been created and become a part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. In UK, the meningitis B is also the risk for infants. The government has accepted the Men B vaccine as a part of routine immunization for babies at two, four, and twelve months old (Gallagher). Gallagher, a health editor in BBC News, states that “campaigners said it could prevent up to 4,000 cases by 2025”. The bacterial infection is dangerous because the bacteria can develop rapidly inside the patients’ bodies and spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing. A person with weak immune system can get bacterial meningitis by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been. Some bacteria can spread through close contacts such as kissing. Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli are two pathogens caused food poisoning, so people may get meningitis if they eat contaminated food. In the article “How An Alleged Blue Bell Listeria Victim Says the Illness Changed His Life Forever”, Sydney Lupkin writes a news about David “Phil” Schokley, a victim of the Blue Bell Ice Cream outbreak.
Listeria from the Blue Bell Ice Cream made a 31-years-old man diagnose with meningitis and he would have neurological problems permanently. Another type of meningitis is viral meningitis. Viruses are common cause in human more than bacteria, but they are less dangerous. Enteroviruses are the main viruses that cause viral infection (Meningitis). Other viruses such as herpes simplex virus, HIV, or mumps can be the leading causes. For instance, since June, Chicago health officials has been encouraging all gay and bisexual men to get vaccinated for meningitis because six men have been diagnosed with meningitis (Rhodes). Fungal meningitis is uncommon illness that causes chronic meningitis. People with weak immune system are more likely infected. Signs and symptoms of meningitis develop after one or two days. However, most of the early signs and symptoms are similar to signs and symptoms of flu. Normally, people have sudden high fever, headache, stiff neck, and sleepiness. For a newborn baby, the sign will be high fever, constant crying, and poor feeding. To diagnose meningitis, the heath specialists will check the signs of ears, head, and throat. Then, they do several diagnostic tests such as, blood tests, X-rays or CT for the inflammation part in the head, ears, or sinus. The patients are required to have the lumbar puncture test to analysis their cerebrospinal fluid (Meningitis). The cerebrospinal fluid will help the health specialists identify which bacteria causes the illness.
After diagnosing with meningitis, patients will be treated by several antibiotics. It is only 15 percent of people who died from meningitis. However, the side effects of meningitis make the patient feel nervous. The patients will suffer with memory loss, deafness, learning difficulties, weakness, and speech problems. Some people can complete recovery, but some people will have these effects permanently. Each type of meningitis affects people with certain medical conditions and in certain ages. Also, this infection disease more likely spreads out rapidly in a community. College students who live on campus, military people, and boarding school students are normally the victims. Therefore, many governments are encouraging parents to get vaccinated for their children in the early age and college students. Many health facilities are continuing to create new vaccine for meningitis. Early in this year, FDA approved the new vaccine that against the serogroup B meningococcal disease because the old vaccine didn’t work for new conditions (Bushak). This approval is a new achievement for public health in preventing infectious diseases. On August 18, the Switzerland government urged 2,000 scouts returning from Japan Jamboree to get treated after the meningitis outbreak (Meningitis fears). In the article “Meningitis fears spur Sweden to urge 2,000 scouts returning Japan jamboree to get treated”, the reporter reported that many people had developed the symptoms of meningitis during the World Scout Jamboree event, so the Switzerland encouraged scout people to return to get treated even though they don’t feel sick.
Many countries are able to control the outbreak of meningitis. However, meningitis is still a serious issue in sub-Saharan area. An area from Senegal to the Gambia is called “the sub-Saharan meningitis belt” because this area is still affected by meningitis outbreak. Million cases of meningitis have been reported in Africa for many years. Epidemics occur during the dry season from December to June and last in this area for at least two or three years. The weather condition is one of the main factors turn the outbreak into an epidemic. People in sub-Saharan area also don’t have good living conditions. Lots of people don’t have the access to health facilities and they aren’t prepared enough knowledge about preventing diseases. That is the most concern for any health specialists since meningitis in many developed countries is only a rare condition and meningitis in poor countries is a huge health issue.
After doing research about meningitis, I am surprised that meningococcal disease is a rare case in the United States and not a lot of people are diagnosed with meningitis every year. In Vietnam, there are still a lot of people have to suffer with meningitis, especially tuberculosis meningitis. I had an opportunity to internship in the Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam during this summer. I saw that not only patients suffer with the disease, but also the family member struggle with treatment fees. I supported in the project called “Beyond The Hospital” for meningitis patients. Our team interviewed many people including physician, people who are recovery from meningitis, or family member of the patients to figure a health information package for patients and their family.
The project gave me quite amount of knowledge about the meningitis disease. As a prospective public health, I think that it is important to raise awareness among people about getting vaccinated for meningitis and support the patients after their discharging from the hospital. Vaccine for meningitis is available, but not a lot of people are aware of its importance. The responsibility of the public health is applying the knowledge about preventing disease in the early stage and living healthy to the community. It is always better to have a good prevention than to have an expensive treatment. The unfortunately meningitis outbreak will rarely happen if people know how to protect their health by small actions such as having good hygiene, washing hands, and staying healthy. A good life choice affects a lot in people’s health condition. Understanding about meningitis helps me clarify the duties of a public health specialist. Some diseases are treatable, but the bad life choices lead the patient to be ill. Once the disease releases, it not only make the life of the patient worse, but also increase the risk of people’s health in a community. As a public health, I should help people to recognize the importance of prevention.