What is the history of the disease, where was it first discovered?
Meningitis is a disease that was first described in ancient texts. The ancient god, Hippocrates described Meningitis in his ancient works. The first recorded outbreak was in Geneva in 1805. Gaspard Vieusseux provided the first clinical description of the disease. Although, the first connection of the disease is by Austrian man, Anton Vaykselbaum, who was the first person to find the causative agent of Meningitis which was meningococcal (Source 1). Meningitis affects roughly 600-1000 people in the U.S. Even with new technology and vaccines, 10-15% of people die and 1-5 of survivors result in having permanent damage. The worst outbreak of Meningitis was in West Africa in 2009. Doctors without Borders were called into to try to contain the outbreak. During this time 56,000 cases of Meningitis was reported.
What was the symptoms of the disease? How it is diagnosed?
Symptoms of Meningitis depending on many different factors. Depending on which type of Meningitis a person may have, the time of year it is or the age and/or immune status of the patient. General symptoms (for adults) may include nausea or vomiting, confusion and difficulty concentrating, extreme sensitivity to light, seizures, loss of appetite, drowsiness/difficulty waking up and/or a skin rash. In small children and infants, bulging on soft spot (on the skull), constant crying, unusual sleepiness, constant crying or stiffness of the body may be common (Source 2). To be diagnosed, a patient will need to visit a clinic,emergency room, pediatrician or general doctor. For a proper diagnosis, a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) are conducted. A spinal tap is when needles are inserted into the lower back to get a small dose of cerebrospinal fluid *(CSF). This will then be observed for bacteria and fungi. (Source 2). A doctor will also check patient’s history to pinpoint possible exposure. Some of these many include checking recent travel, contact with infected people or animals/insects. Based on season, it may indicate what type of Meningitis someone may have. For example, in late summer/early fall enteroviruses are more common. While in late spring, early summer, insect-borne Meningitis is more common. (Source 2). Lastly, a medical professional may conduct a neurological examination. There they will test hearing, speech, vision, coordination, balance, reflexes, mental status and/or changes in mood/behavior. Observer will also looks for if patient is lowering their head or putting their chin toward their chest. (Source 2).
How does a person contract/acquire the disease?
Depending on the type of Meningitis,it can be contracted in different ways. For Viral Meningitis, kissing, coughing, contact with saliva, any form of fluid. are the main ways of being contacted. Bacterial Meningitis and other forms can be contracted the same way along with transmission through blood or foreign bodies being place within their skull (such as tubes to drain fluid) (Source 2). The way it spreads is through an “organism spread through the meninges from the infected tissue next to or near the meninges”(Source 2) creating the action of infectious agents reacting on the brain tissue. (Source 2).
What is the prognosis for the patient? (How long will they remain sick, will they die, are they contagious, will there be lingering effects)
Prognosis depends on the type of Meningitis and immune/overall health. Everyone will recover differently. Averagely, people who only experience headaches, stiffness or a fever may recover within 2-4 weeks. Although, bacterial Meningitis patients may experience relief in anywhere from 48-72 hours yet are doubled as likely to have complications, resulting in a 10-15% death rate. Continuing, survival from bacterial complications may result in long term effects. Complications such as blindness, hydrocephalus, hearing loss, learning disorders and/or paralysis (along with an abnormal flow of CSF) result in permanent damage.
Can this disease be treated? If so, how? Are there antibiotics? If not, why not and what steps are we taking towards discovering a cure or treatment?
Treatment of Meningitis starts with medical advise to go to the emergency room as soon as symptoms start to be experienced. A spinal tap will be conducted (as stated above), and given penicillin or broad-spectrum antibiotics. A nurse will then insert IV fluids and will give the patient oxygen to assist breathing. Once, the type of Meningitis is identified a nurse or a nurse technician will adjust the antibiotics according to the doctor’s orders. Bacterial Meningitis is the most severe of all types. In this case, additional treatment is needed to help with initial shock, seizures, dehydration or brain swelling. Some cases may be so severe that the patient may be put on life support in the intensive care unit (ICU). With Bacterial Meningitis, the antibiotics given will vary. The most common combination is ampicillin along with cefotaxime. In other cases, ceftriaxone and vancomycin may need to be given. This antibiotic process will be given for about 7-10 days or up to 14-21 with extreme cases (Source 2).
How can the disease be prevented? Are there vaccines?
Prevention is a touchy subject when it comes to Meningitis. Several vaccines are available in the U.S to protect from the the most dangerous types. Children ages 2-5 years of age have the highest risk of infection. The most common vaccination is called PCV7. Another vaccine on the market is MCV4. This is recommended for all children under 2 years old or college-aged adults who were not vaccinated as children. If a patient is over the age of 65 and has a weakened immune system or suffers with diabetes, heart disease or has had their spleen removed, they should receive the PPV vaccine. Furthermore, without the use of antibiotics, measures you can take are washing your hands, exercising, taking vitamins and eating healthy. A major precaution you can take is to avoid sharing glasses (cups) or food utensils, this will eliminate chances for viral and bacterial Meningitis.
What is the future of the disease, are we likely to cure it?
Like an any disease, Meningitis is constantly being researched and new attempts of vaccines are always being introduced to target certain symptoms along with preventing the entire disease itself, which is seemly the harder task. 2-3 bacterial Meningitis cases are reported for every 10,000 people in the United States. Many clinical trials for vaccines are always conducted trying to find an ultimate cure. Some trials have included Haemophilus Influenzae and MenAfriVac (Source 3). Although vaccines are more reliable alternative medicine has also been introduced. Homeopathy therapy is a traditional chinese/western herbal medicine treatment that can be used to regain health and build up the immune system using specific remedies. Continuing, research for the disease can be improved. New studies are finding that the Meningococcal vaccine can be unsafe for children (Source 4). This leaves children at a higher risk when parents decide not to vaccinate. In the future, it is looking good for a permanent and safe cure of viral and bacterial Meningitis, with the continuing research and helpful organizations.
Interesting facts or trivia about the disease, interesting cases or famous (infamous) people related to the disease/pathogen useful in some other way?
The types of Meningitis are categorized in three different subdivisions: Acute, Subacute and Chronic. In more detail, there are different types of Meningitis within these. For example, there are viral (also called aseptic) and bacterial. The bacterial Meningitis (bacteria that is found creating symptoms) subdivisions include: pneumoniae, influenzae, N. meningitidis, listeria. When conducting a spinal tap to be treated for the disease, doctors will insert a needle that can be as long a pencil into the back! Some questions you can ask your doctor if diagnosed or suspected are: Do I have it, how long until i’m back to normal, what type do I have, what are the complications and ask about possible vaccines/alternative medicines.