OREGON COUNTY -- Because at least three cases of meningitis in counties close to Oregon County, Wright County and Fort Leonard Wood, Oregon County Health Department Director Sheila Russell thought it would be a good idea to let the residents of the county become a little more familiar with the sometimes deadly disease.
"Meningitis is an infection of the fluid around the spinal cord and the brain," Russell said.
It is usually caused by a virus or bacteria. "Viral meningitis is usually less severe and usually goes away without specific treatment. Bacterial meningitis can be very severe and can lead to hearing loss, learning disabilities or brain damage," she said.
Some of the common symptoms of meningitis are high fever, headache and stiff neck.
"Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness and bright lights hurting an individual's eyes," Russell said.
Newborns and infants may not have high fever, headache or stiff neck. "They may just be slow or inactive, have vomiting or a loss of appetite or be irritable," Russell said.
There are several different ways a person can develop meningitis.
"It is spread through saliva or respiratory droplets. For example, when you kiss someone who is infected, share a drink with them or they cough droplets on you. It is not as contagious as a cold. You can get it just from breathing the air around them," Russell said.
Meningitis can be treated.
Viral meningitis usually goes away without specific treatment. Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but treatment needs to begin early. "It is important to know which bacteria is causing the illness so the most effective antibiotics can be used for treatment. When appropriate treatment is used, the risk of dying from meningitis drops to below 15 percent, except for senior adults," Russell said.
People can protect themselves against meningitis.
"The vaccine is for children ages 11 to 18-years-old to be routinely vaccinated against four types of meningitis with MCV4 vaccine, which is available at the Oregon County Health Department. Teens should be vaccinated before entering high school or college," Russell said.
The following people are at increased risk of getting meningitis and should consider being vaccinated:
* College freshmen living in dorms.
* People with immune system disorders.
* People with spleen conditions.
* Anyone traveling to a country experiencing a meningitis outbreak.
* People who have been exposed to meningitis.
"You can protect yourself by washing your hands frequently with soap and water, sanitize common surfaces like telephone, doorknobs and faucets. Avoid sharing personal items such as a toothbrush, drinking glass and eating utensils," she said.
A high school student in Mansfield was recently diagnosed with the disease. Last month two Fort Leonard Wood soldiers in mid-Missouri died from meningitis. A male nurse on the Army base has viral meningitis, but is recovering.
Last year, Missouri reported 26 cases of meningitis cases including three deaths.
For more information, contact the local health department at Alton Monday through Friday at 417-778-7450 or at Thayer on Tuesday and Wednesday at 417-264-3114.