How to Prevent Brain Infections


Infectious diseases affecting the brain can range from the relatively mild to the truly life threatening.  As such, it is important to recognize the symptoms of these diseases and know when and how to seek the best treatment possible for you and your family. 

The three main illnesses we'll examine in this article are Bacterial Meningitis, Rabies and Viral Meningitis. Here's a preview:

  • How to Prevent Bacterial MeningitisUnlike its relatively minor viral cousin, bacterial meningitis is a serious disease that can lead to brain damage, paralysis and even death. There are three types of bacteria which can cause this form of meningitis and its varieties are seen amongst a wide range of age groups. Perhaps the most familiar strain of this particular illness is meningococcus meningitis, also referred to as "dorm disease", due to the fact that young adults attending college and living in dorms have contracted the illness.
  • How to Prevent RabiesIf Stephen King's tale of a vicious, frothing-at-the-mouth St. Bernard, or rumors about needed 30 shots in the stomach after being bitten by a rabid animal didn't convince you to take the threat of rabies more seriously, perhaps our article will serve as a bit of a backup nudge. Rabies is in fact, so common around the world, that some nations who are believed to be rabies free quarantine any pet coming through their borders for up to six months. It is a serious disease that requires vigilance to defend against, as any pet owner who visits the vet for vaccinations can attest. We'll sort out the facts so you can be aware of the risks and protect your pets and your family.
  • How to Prevent Viral MeningitisViral meningitis closely mimics the flu and for that reason you'll want to know the difference between your standard run-of-the-mill influenza and this slightly more serious form of brain disease. Viral meningitis is also unique in that it can be spread by insect bites as well as via contact with an infected person. It is most common among young adults and is often seen throughout the year. When the virus appears in the summer it is often mosquito-borne, but in the winter it is almost assuredly the result of contact with another person who has the illness.

This information is solely for informational purposes.  IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE.  Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information.  The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider.  Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Prevent Bacterial Meningitis

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Children are especially vulnerable to bacterial meningitis. Ask your family physician about the correct time to vaccinate your child.

Bacterial meningitis is a serious and often fatal illness which can be prevented by vaccinating oneself against the disease. For those not vaccinated, however, it is critical to recognize the symptoms of the disease rather quickly for treatment to be successful. The illness is caused by a host of bacterium which target the brain and can is not discriminate with regard to the age of its preferred host. The following will provide a brief examination into Bacterial Meningitis.

Culprit

One of three types of bacteria typically causes bacterial meningitis: Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). A fourth bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, is a less-common cause of meningitis. Finally, newborns can also contract bacterial meningitis, usually from Escherichia coli or group B Streptococcus in the mother's birth canal.

Infection Info

Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the membranes (meninges) and the fluid that surround the brain and the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). Unlike the relatively mild viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis is a serious disease that can lead to brain damage, paralysis, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and even death.

The bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis are not highly contagious, but some can be spread through direct, close contact. Listeria spreads from contaminated foods and does not pass directly from person to person. Meningococcus infection, with or without meningitis, can cause the spread of bleeding under the skin; this bloodborne infection can be fatal.

Common symptoms include a stiff neck, high fever, headache, nausea, confusion, sleepiness, seizures, and sensitivity to light. These symptoms may be more difficult to detect in infants (and the elderly), but they are often accompanied by poor appetite, listlessness, and fussiness. Treatment for bacterial meningitis requires antibiotics, and the success rate is better when the disease is diagnosed and treated soon after symptoms begin.

Except for Listeria, the bugs that cause bacterial meningitis are often present in the throat and mouth on and off throughout a person's life. In people who haven't been immunized against the particular bug and have recently acquired the bacterium, it can penetrate the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. The bacteria then multiply quickly and inflammation sets in, creating the symptoms that mark the infection.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone can contract bacterial meningitis, but it is most common in infants, children, and the elderly. Hib meningitis is most common in children 18 months to 4 years of age, meningococcus meningitis is most common in adolescents and young adults, and pneumococcal meningitis is most common in adults. Listeria meningitis generally occurs in people with damaged immune systems, especially those going through chemotherapy for treatment of cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), college freshmen living in dormitories are also at risk for meningococcal meningitis, as are military recruits and those traveling to areas of the world (such as sub-Saharan Africa) where meningococcal disease is more common. Bacterial meningitis is relatively rare in developed countries and usually occurs in isolated cases. Epidemics of meningococcal disease still occur in parts of the developing world.

Defensive Measures

Vaccination is the best defense against the three most common causes of bacterial meningitis. Hib bacteria were the leading cause of bacterial meningitis until the 1990s, when Hib-preventing vaccines became a routine part of childhood immunizations.

Today, with the virtual elimination of Hib meningitis in the developed world thanks to the widespread use of the vaccine, meningococcus and pneumococcus now cause most cases, except for those in newborns. According to the CDC, two vaccines help protect against most, but not all, types of Neisseria meningitidis, meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4 or Menomune) and meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4 or MenactraT).

MCV4 is recommended for all children at 11 to 12 years of age. For those who have not already received MCV4, a dose is recommended before entering high school. The CDC recommends routine MCV4 vaccination for at-risk people.

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine can be given to ward off meningitis caused by Streptococcus (pneumococcus). This vaccine is recommended for people 65 and older or younger people with a variety of chronic diseases or those who've had their spleen removed. A newer vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, also is routinely recommended for children. This vaccine may be as active against pneumococcal infection in children as the Hib vaccine was against Haemophilus influenzae meningitis.

There is no vaccine to prevent Listeria infection. Those susceptible to bacterial meningitis, such as those on chemotherapy for cancer or people receiving treatment to prevent organ rejection after a transplant, should avoid high-risk foods, such as deli meats, hot dogs, and unpasteurized soft cheeses.

Diseases affecting the brain are not limited to those transmitted by one human to another. Our friends in the animal kingdom harbor their fair share of deadly virsuses as well, which they then pass on to us. An additional, and almost always fatal brain disease when not treated, is discussed on the next page. 

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Prevent Rabies

©2006 Copyright Publications International, Ltd. Rabies is a fatal disease of the brain and central nervous system. Vaccinating  your pets and avoiding contact with wild animals are good ways to avoid contracting the disease.

Each year, dog and cat owners flock rather reluctantly to their vet to shell out ten dollars or so to have their pet vaccinated against the rabies virus -- and be glad they do.  Rabies is an often fatal and painful disease which affects the brain and nervous system of those infected.  Your government constantly works to ensure the disease is kept in check by requiring the vaccination of pets, and restricting pets with the disease from entering the country.  Let's take a look at how the disease is transmitted and how it manifests itself once inside the body.

Culprit

Rabies is caused by a Lyssavirus, which is excreted in saliva and attacks the nervous system.

Infection Info

Without proper treatment, rabies is fatal for almost every person who is infected by it. Most animals have a similar death rate, but some, especially bats, may tolerate infection and survive.

The virus is typically transmitted to people through an infected mammal's bite. The virus travels from the animal's saliva through the person's nerves to the brain, where it can cause inflammation, swelling, and eventually death. The virus descends through nerves and settles in the salivary glands, where it can be passed on through a bite. There have been rare cases of person-to-person transmission via corneal transplants (corneas have many nerves).

Early rabies symptoms, such as headache, fever, and malaise, are not specific to the disease, so contact your physician immediately if you feel these after an animal bites you. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, paralysis, excessive salivation, and difficulty swallowing (hydrophobia). If you're bitten by a rabid animal, a series of vaccinations should begin right away. The vaccinations are only effective if given before symptoms develop, which is usually three to four weeks after the bite.

Who Is At Risk?

Those with exposure, accidental or otherwise, to wild animals or free-roaming dogs are most at risk of contracting rabies. According to the World Health Organization, between 30 percent and 60 percent of dog bite victims in areas where canine rabies is endemic are children younger than 15.

Defensive Measures

Rabies, although most prevalent in wild animals, such as foxes, skunks, raccoons, monkeys, and bats, can certainly appear in household pets, including dogs, cats, and ferrets. Here are several ways to protect yourself and your family:

  • Rabies may lurk in any "wild" environment, including the woods behind your suburban subdivision. Supervise your dogs, cats, and other pets; keeping them on your property will reduce their risk of exposure.
  • All warm-blooded pets need a rabies vaccination -- see your vet and keep these vaccinations current.
  • If you are at high risk for rabies infection, get vaccinated. Veterinarians and wildlife workers routinely receive vaccinations as a precaution.
  • When exploring the great outdoors, keep in mind that overly friendly wild animals are probably just too sick to run away. Enjoy wildlife from a distance and call animal control or a local emergency number if an animal is acting strangely.
  • Do not unintentionally attract animals by leaving the lids off garbage cans, and keep bats at bay by blocking nesting areas on or around your home.
  • Teach your children not to pet or touch animals they do not know, even if the animals seem friendly.
  • If you see a wild animal or a pet foaming at the mouth, stay away and call animal control. When the rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, it makes it difficult for an animal to swallow its own infected saliva, leading to "foaming."
  • If your pet is attacked or bitten by another animal, report the attack to local health or animal control authorities. Even if your pet is vaccinated, your veterinarian will likely recommend a booster shot.
  • When traveling abroad, avoid contact with wild animals and be especially wary around dogs. In developing areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, dogs are a major carrier of rabies. Before traveling internationally, talk with your physician about your risk of exposure, whether you should be vaccinated, and what you should do if you are exposed to rabies while in a foreign country.

If you think a rabid animal has bitten you, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least ten minutes. Note what kind of animal it was and how it was acting. Get medical help immediately and alert animal control authorities to the animal's location.

On our final page, we will look at an infection that is similar to bacterial meningitis. Keep reading to learn about viral meningitis.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Prevent Viral Meningitis

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Viral meningitis often mimics the flus, and its symptoms can include vomiting, neck stiffness and fever.

While viral meningitis might seem to be a bit less threatening than bacterial meningitis, it is still a disease you're going to be much more comfortable avoiding rather than conquering head on. Your head, in fact, might thank you for it as well. Primarily spread by contact between humans as a result of poor hygiene, its rapid onset of symptoms and possible two-week life span might cause you to wish you had listened to your mother a bit more attentively when it came to her suggestions about regular hand-washing!

Culprit

Viral meningitis is caused by a number of different viruses, many of which are associated with other diseases, such as mumps. According to the CDC, enteroviruses, such as coxsackieviruses and echoviruses, are to blame for most cases of viral meningitis. Mosquitoborne viruses also cause some cases each year.

Infection Info

Like bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis is an infection of the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid. Unlike its cousin, however, viral meningitis is usually a relatively mild disease. The viruses that cause it are spread through direct contact with infected people. The CDC estimates there are between 25,000 and 50,000 hospitalizations due to viral meningitis every year.

Sudden symptoms that mimic the flu, particularly in children, are a telltale sign of viral meningitis. These symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, neck stiffness, and sensitivity to light. Because different viruses can cause the illness, the length of time it takes to heal can vary from just a few days to two weeks.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone can get viral meningitis, but it occurs most often in children and young adults.

Defensive Measures

Because a virus causes viral meningitis, antibiotics are not an effective treatment. Those who are infected with the virus can be treated at home and usually improve without medical intervention. You can help prevent the spread of viral meningitis by:

  • Washing your hands thoroughly and often
  • Avoiding contact with the saliva or mucus of an infected person
  • Not sharing utensils, cups, and food
  • Disinfecting common surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens with soap and hot water or a bleach-based household cleaner
  • Keeping toys separate and regularly disinfected
  • Avoiding mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts

Over the past decade, much of the attention paid to brain disease in our news media has centered on progressive Alzheimer's.  Yet there still exist transmittable and preventable illnesses of the brain whose severity and rapid-onset, should not be overlooked. In fact, some of these diseases reach epidemic proportions regularly, with some regions of Africa even having "seasons" where the illness spreads for months among the population. 

These diseases, which include bacterial meningitis, encephalitis, mosquito-borne meningitis, viral meningitis and rabies each affect the brain and most are fatal. The fortunate thing is, many of these unique diseases of the brain are preventable with a combination of good hygiene, vaccination and a in the case of rabies, reduction of risky contact with wild animals. Protect yourself by continuing to educate yourself and your family about the risks associated with these brain infections and stay healthy!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laurie L. Dove is an award winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper. 

Dr. Larry Lutwick is a Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York - Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York and Director of Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus.  He is also Bacterial Diseases Moderator for the real time online infectious diseases surveillance system, Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED-mail) and has authored more than 100 medical articles and 15 book chapters. He has edited two books on infectious diseases.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.