According to the Instituto Nacional de Salud in Colombia, there were more than 400 suspected meningitis cases reported in week 34 (Aug. 23-29); however, after discarding and ruling out cases, 245 laboratory confirmed (59%) and probable (41%) cases remained.

Image/Instituo Nacional de Salud
Image/Instituo Nacional de Salud

The distribution by the types of bacterial meningitis is as follows: Neisseria meningitidis 59 (24.1%), Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis 84 (34.3%), Haemophilus influenzae meningitis 29 (11.8%) and meningitis by other agents 73 (29.8%).

The territorial communities of origin with the largest number of reported cases are Antioquia, Bogotá, Valle del Cauca, Bolivar and Cartagena.

Thirty meningitis deaths were reported in week 34 with half due to S. pneumoniae meningitis. This compares with the number of meningitis fatalities reported during the 4 previous weeks: Week 33 (29 deaths), week 32 (31 deaths), week 31 (31 deaths) and week 30 (30 deaths).

The germs that cause bacterial meningitis can be contagious. Some bacteria can spread through the exchange (e.g., by kissing) of respiratory and throat secretions (e.g., saliva or mucus). Fortunately the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, most of the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as viruses that cause the common cold or the flu. Also, the bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.

Meningitis infection may show up in a person by a sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It will often have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light (photophobia), and altered mental status (confusion).

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3-7 days after exposure.

If meningitis is suspected, samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (near the spinal cord) are collected and sent to the laboratory for testing. It is important to know the specific cause of meningitis because that helps doctors understand how to treat the disease, and possibly how bad it will get.

Bacterial meningitis can be treated effectively with antibiotics. It is important that treatment be started as soon as possible. Appropriate antibiotic treatment of the most common types of bacterial meningitis should reduce the risk of dying from meningitis to below 15%, although the risk remains higher among young infants and the elderly.

The most effective way to protect you and your child against certain types of bacterial meningitis is to complete the recommended vaccine schedule. There are vaccines for three types of bacteria that can cause meningitis: Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).

Antibiotics may be recommended for close contacts of people with meningococcal meningitis. Antibiotics may also be recommended for the entire family if a family member develops severe Hib infection and there’s a high-risk person in the house.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

Follow @bactiman63