Meningitis is a highly contagious disease which spreads from person to person. It is a disease of the cover of the brain and spinal cord. It is found all over the world but more common in crowded communities with poor ventilation. In Nigeria, it is more common in the northern part which lies within the “Meningitis Belt” which extends from Senegal to Ethiopia. Other places where meningitis is common include Nepal, Sub-saharan African countries, and Northern part of India.
People in all ages can have the disease but those under 30 years are more at risk.
Meningitis is caused by several agents from bacteria, virus, fungi to parasites, it could also result from injuries or cancer.
The way meningitis spreads from person to person depends on the agent that caused the disease. If caused` by bacteria, it will spread through coughing, sneezing if close to the sick person or discharges can be blown as droplets later to other persons. It can also spread through kissing, sharing lip sticks/lip savers, tooth brushes etc. If caused by a virus, it spreads by faecal (Stool) contamination of hands resulting from failure to wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing baby diapers. There are other means of spread but these two are the most important.
Risk factors include lack of vaccination, poor housing, age, and chronic illness.
Meningitis whether caused by virus, bacteria, fungus, low immunity or parasites is preventable one way or the other. You can ward off meningitis by:
Vaccines against meningitis are available; there are two types, one for those above 55 years and the other for aged 2 to 55 years. In Nigeria, during epidemics, all persons from 2 to 30 years are vaccinated. All travelers to countries where meningitis is common should see the doctor for meningitis vaccination. Same applies to military recruits and some categories of heath workers.
However, vaccines are available only for meningitis caused by bacteria or viruses. Nevertheless get yourself and your family vaccinated against meningitis in full.
2. Personal Hygiene
This relates to coughing and sneezing habits; cover your mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing with your handkerchief or tissue paper. Also, we should endeavour to distance ourselves from those sneezing or coughing repeatedly when in a gathering.
3. Hand Hygiene.
Meningitis caused by a virus spreads by faecal (Stool) contamination of hands resulting from failure to wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing baby diapers; from the hands directly to the mouth or nose or through food. You must wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing baby diapers with soap and water and apply sanitizer if available.
4. Use of appropriate Drugs.
Carriers of the disease can be treated with some drugs to terminate spread to others who may develop the full blown disease. This is more necessary in closed communities or households.
5. Non-sharing of personal items
Meningitis if caused by bacteria can spread through kissing, sharing lip sticks/lip savers, tooth brushes. Do not share lip sticks, lip savers, tooth brush or drinking straws with other people.
6. Adequate Housing
Meningitis is more common among persons living in boarding houses/dormitories and barracks. Out breaks can also occur in Day care centres. This is mainly due to overcrowding in poorly ventilated accommodations. Spacious and well ventilated accommodations reduce the risk of spread of meningitis.
7. Avoid kissing strangers
Some of the agents which cause meningitis can remain at the back of the throat for some time without the person showing signs of the disease. Do not engage in mouth to mouth kissing with someone you do not know very well.