Help For Paranoia: A Primer On Bacterial Meningitis

Autopsy slide of bacterial meningitis
Autopsy slide of bacterial meningitis

In the wake of the awful news that a Boston Latin Academy 7th-grader died of probable bacterial meningitis on Monday evening, many of us may be reinterpreting every headache and fever. So I'm deeply grateful to Sacha Pfeiffer and Lynn Jolicoeur of WBUR's All Things Considered for this helpful primer on bacterial meningitis. They quote Dr. Paul Sax of Brigham and Women’s Hospital on the symptoms of possible bacterial meningitis:

"A person who has a very severe headache, very high fevers, a person who says it’s the worst headache of my life. A person who says that they have a very stiff neck in association with that fever and headache. Also, if there’s been any change in sort of the level of cognition of a child or an adult, someone who’s sort of not thinking right while those things are going on, those would also be very much warning signs. And also in particular, fever and headache and a rash would be particularly alarming."

And his advice for parents:

"If somebody, say, has a child who’s in a school where a case of meningococcal meningitis occurs, or if a child is in a dormitory where such a case occurs, or someone is sharing the room or a household, then there is a preventive treatment for close contacts and that’s to take a single dose of an antibiotic and that reduces the risk of that person who got the contact of developing the disease. But also, I think this is another example of where we’ve made huge strides through widespread immunization. Another form of bacterial meningitis which used to be the most common in children, so-called H-flu meningitis, has virtually disappeared because of widespread immunization against that very, very dangerous pathogen."

This program aired on November 23, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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