How Is Meningitis Spread?

Meningitis is an infection which causes the membranes around your spinal cord and brain to swell. The name comes from the effect it has on your body, the inflammation of the meninges. There are several forms of meningitis including bacterial, fungal and viral. The most serious is the bacterial form, while the most common is viral meningitis. The illness, at its worst, can cause stroke, paralysis or death.

How Is Meningitis Spread?

There are several ways to spread the germs that lead to meningitis:

1.      Through Birth

Even if a mother does not show signs of the illness, she can spread meningitis causing germs to her unborn baby through the birth canal. It does not matter if it is in bacterial or viral form. A cesarean section has a lower risk of passing the germs but does not prevent the chances entirely.

2.      Through Sneezing and Coughing

Bacteria that can cause meningitis can travel by salvia or mucus in your mouth or nose. When you cough or sneeze, you can spread these germs.

3.      Through Certain Foods

Some foods are contaminated with a germ called Listeria monocytogenes. The consumption of these foods can cause the onset of meningitis. Ill people, young children and pregnant women have the greatest risk to get infected this way.

4.      Through Sexual Contact, Kissing or Infected Blood

Some viruses can pass from one person to the next through body fluids shared like semen, saliva and blood. Some of these germs can result in meningitis.

5.      Through Stool

Stool carries several types of bacteria including enteroviruses. Children have a greater risk of getting meningitis through stool contamination because they often neglect to wash their hands. It is important for both the young and old to practice good hand washing habits.

6.      Through Insects and Rodents

Though rare, some meningitis causing bacteria can be spread by the urine of rats and mice that are infected. Mosquitos can pass viruses to humans when they bite.

What Increases Your Risk of Being Infected?

Now that you know possible ways on "how is meningitis spread", it is important to know the risk factors for contracting the disease. These factors include:

  • Genetics: For some reason, certain people have a greater chance than others to get meningitis if they come in contact with the illness-causing germs.
  • Lack of childhood immunizations: Individuals who do not get vaccinated for pneumococcal infections, Hib disease or the mumps before turning 2 years old have a greater risk of getting meningitis.
  • Congested living conditions: Living in a college dorm, camp, school or day care center exposes you to more germs and a higher risk of contracting the disease.
  • Men: Being males increases your odds of getting meningitis.
  • Travel: Traveling to areas like the "meningitis belt" or other areas where the disease is common will increase your risk.
  • Age: If you are an older adult and have not been vaccinated for pneumococcal, your chances of getting meningitis is greater.
  • High concentration of rodents and mosquitos: Living or traveling to places where rodents or insects carry meningitis causing germs have a higher risk of contamination.

Medical Conditions

  • Existing infections: Having an infection like mumps, syphilis, tuberculosis, Lyme disease, and an upper respiratory infection or being inflicted with a herpes virus induced illness can make you more susceptible.
  • Head related trauma: If you suffer from a head injury, skull birth defect or have had brain surgery, your risk is higher.
  • Previous meningitis infection: If you have had meningitis already, your chances of getting it again are greater than someone never infected.
  • Infected mother: If your mother is infected with germs that cause the illness, she can pass them to you during birth.
  • Cochlear implant: Children with this implant made for extreme hearing loss have a higher chance of getting bacterial meningitis.
  • Dysfunctional spleen: If your spleen does work properly, your immune system is weakened, making you more susceptible.

Ways to Prevent the Spread of Meningitis

The importance of knowing "how is meningitis spread" can help you to stop it through preventive measures.

1.      Childhood Vaccines

Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent this illness. The vaccines that help the most are MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), Hib disease, Pneumococcal disease, chickenpox and meningococcal disease.

2.      Hand Washing

Wash your hands thoroughly when around someone who has meningitis. This includes washing them after using the bathroom or assisting another person, changing bed sheets, cleaning clothes, changing an infected baby's diaper or handling the items of an infected individual.

Make sure to use warm water when you can and while using soap scrub your hands together for a minimum of 15 seconds. Children are often taught in school to sing "Happy Birthday" while they wash their hands and when done singing, they are done washing.

3.      Antibiotics

How is meningitis spread throughout a contaminated home or living space? While it is not as easy to get as other viral or bacterial infections, it can still be passed from one person to another. If someone in your home or school is infected, make sure to get antibiotics if appropriate. Your doctor or other medical professionals will be able to determine if you should take them.

4.      No Sharing

You don't want someone to share the meningitis infection with you so don't share your glass, plate, fork, towel, cigarettes, lip gloss or any other item that goes around or inside the mouth with anyone else.

5.      Keep a Distance

If you are infected with meningitis, stay away from others until you are better. This includes good night kisses to your kids, laughing around others, and spreading germs by sneezing and coughing around others. If someone in your home has the illness, keep him away from others living there. Do not handle rodents and prevent bites from mosquitoes.

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