A Common Cold, or Meningitis? How to Tell the Difference and Save a Life

A Common Cold, or Meningitis? How to Tell the Difference and Save a Life

April 24th is World Meningitis Day. Each year, over 2,500 people in the U.S get meningococcal disease, and between 10 and 15% die from it.

For the remaining survivors, 10% will live with lingering symptoms. Here’s the list: these include deafness, suffering from seizures, strokes, learning disabilities, brain damage, gait problems, kidney failure, memory difficulties and shock.

Sound pretty daunting? It can be. The good news is that most people will never contract the illness in their lifetime.

But anyone can. And one of the scariest things about meningitis is that it often appears as a common cold in patients, but it can kill you in just 24 hours.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes that cover your brain and spinal cord and it has multiple causes, including bacterial or viral infections and also injuries, cancer and certain drugs.

How can you know if you have it? It can cause a headache but it also has other symptoms, and the type of headache it causes feels a bit different.

According to the Mayo Clinic, for those over the age of 2, symptoms can include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache that seems different than normal
  • Headache with nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking
  • Sensitivity to light
  • No appetite or thirst
  • Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)

Babies suffering from meningitis can experience:

  • High fever
  • Constant crying
  • Excessive sleepiness or irritability
  • Inactivity or sluggishness
  • Poor feeding
  • A bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanel)
  • Stiffness in a baby’s body and neck

Experts say those under the age of 20 are most susceptible and at risk of getting it. If you live in a communal setting you could be at risk, (this illness spreads rapidly in large groups), if you’re immune system is compromised, if you’re pregnant or, (the easiest factor to fix): if you’ve skipped your vaccinations.

Yes, some types of meningitis can be vaccinated against.

If you suspect you or someone you know has meningitis, seek immediate medical help. By catching the infection early, you can prevent severe complications and loss of life.

Photo credits: David Franklin/Shutterstock.com

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