Meningitis is a serious, potentially life-threatening illness, and in the case of bacterial meningitis, it can also be extremely contagious. However, there are preventative measures you can take.
Vaccinations are available for meningitis, and they are an excellent first step toward preventing and spreading it. There are two kinds of these vaccines: one (MCV4) is administered to all age groups, from children as young as 9 months to people at 55. The other type, MPSV4, is given only to those over the age of 55. Neither is 100% effective at preventing the disease, but both are effective in 9 out of 10 cases. The vaccine may be given at various stages, but it is highly recommended around the age of 11, with a follow-up booster at 16; it’s also advised for people going off to college or the military, or traveling to places such as Africa. People who work in hospitals or labs where they may be exposed to the virus or bacteria are also encouraged to vaccinate.
Many of the simple steps that help prevent the spread of illnesses like the common cold or flu can also be applied to meningitis: frequent and proper hand-washing, avoiding sharing drinks, silverware, or lip products, and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Keeping your immune system strong by drinking plenty of fluids and eating a well-balanced diet can make a difference as well, especially in those who have a compromised immune system. Bacterial meningitis is more contagious than the viral form, but the same precautions should be taken for both.
Close contact contributes to the spread of this condition; in some cases, it can’t be avoided, which is why good hygiene and consideration are so important. People contained in close quarters – college students in dorms, the military in barracks, daycares and camps – are at especially high risk. Recognizing the symptoms of meningitis can help them catch it and get treatment, or encourage others to do so, before it becomes a widespread problem; people should be aware that sensitivity to light, stiffness and pain in the neck that makes it hard to turn, a high fever, drowsiness, and headaches are all important indicators. They should also consult their doctor if they know they have been around someone who has meningitis, for testing or vaccination.