NYC Department of Health Reports Six New Meningitis Cases

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In hearing about the recent New York cases, Busuttil said: "Information is most important thing when it comes to meningitis. A lot of times, until there is a case, many people don't even know what it is, and it's sad that there has to be a fatality to make people aware of it."

Signs of Meningitis

Warning signs of meningitis include fever, headache, nausea, fatigue, eye sensitivity to light, stiff neck, confusion and a purple skin rash that usually covers large parts of the limbs.

"A lot of these meningitis cases can feel like the carton variety flu, so it can be quite difficult to pinpoint, that's why you should look for things like severe headache and stiff neck, " said Dr. Lee Harrison, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "And the rash [along with other symptoms] should be an immediate red flag."

Post-Diagnosis

Once doctors believe a patient may have meningitis, they must perform a spinal tap immediately. There, physicians can diagnosis meningococcal disease, and whether it is the viral or bacterial variety.

"Identifying symptoms early on and seeking medical attention early in bacterial meningitis can make a big difference in life or death," said Dr. Adarsh Bhimraj, head of the section of neurologic infections at Cleveland Clinic.

If bacterial, doctors administer the appropriate antibiotics and steroids. There is no treatment available for viral meningitis except for pain relief. But doctors said it is quite rare for a patient to die of viral meningitis.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices currently recommends that all people ages 11 to 18 years old receive the meningitis vaccine. The immunization protects every bacterial meningitis strain except for the B strain.

Vaccines: Recommended, Not Required

New York State requires that all college and university students be educated on meningitis and the vaccine. While students are not required to receive the vaccine, but those who do not want it must decline in writing or by electronic signature.

College freshmen living in dormitories are at a slightly increased risk of bacterial meningitis, which is spread through droplets from sneezing and coughing, kissing and sharing utensil and beverages. Viral meningitis is caused by an enterovirus, a virus that enters the body through the gastrointestinal tract and often moves on to attack the nervous system.

The Meningitis Foundation of America's Madison agreed with Busuttil that awareness is key in preventing the disease.

"A lot of us are becoming advocates of our own health care," said 42-year-old Madison, who suffered from viral meningitis in 1998. "Know what [meningitis] looks like and be armed with as much information as you can be."

"Believe me," said Madison. "nothing would make me happier than to be out of a job, and be able to tell people that meningitis no longer exists."

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