Want to keep yourself and your children safe from diseases, FNites? Increase your medical know-how with advice from the experts. Female Network talked to Dr. Charisma Evangelista, a neurologist who trained at the Philippine General Hospital, to find out what there is to know about viral meningitis and what you can do to prevent yourself from getting it. Scroll down to read the answers to seven common questions about viral meningitis.
1. WHAT IS VIRAL MENINGITIS?
"Viral meningitis is an infection of the meninges [or the covering] of the brain," says Dr. Evangelista. It is highly treatable if detected early. Dr. Evangelista notes, however, that it can be dangerous if left untreated--according to Clinical Pediatric Neurology (4th Edition), the mortality rate can go as high as 70 percent.
Viral meningitis can attack any time, but it can be seasonal too. It's more prevalent during the rainy season, when it's more common to catch a cold or the flu.
2. WHAT CAUSES IT?
True to its name, the disease is a viral infection. The most common viruses that cause it, says Dr. Evangelista, are herpes simplex and Japanese B encephalitis. Herpes simplex is the same virus that causes cold sores. Meanwhile, the Japanese B encephalitis virus is transmitted by mosquitoes to humans from domestic pigs and wild birds.
3. WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF VIRAL MENINGITIS?
Dr. Evangelista lists the following as the basic symptoms of the disease:
- changes in behavior (patient can suddenly become irritable and incoherent)
- alterations in patient's level of consciousness
- fever and headaches
These can appear for up to seven days, but it's important to go to the doctor and have yourself checked as soon as your first symptoms appear, she says. The way the symptoms manifest is acute and gradual, which means that the patient can appear okay for a time but can suddenly show symptoms within a few days.
To find out if you have viral meningitis, your doctor will give you a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as a spinal tap, a process in which a needle is inserted into your lower back to collect cerebrus spinal fluid for analysis. The results of the test will reflect changes in your white blood cell (WBC) count and protein and sugar content. If you have viral meningitis, Dr. Evangelista notes, the WBC count will be high and the fluid will contain sugar.
4. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VIRAL AND BACTERIAL MENINGITIS?
Besides having different causal agents, the two types of meningitis also affect the body differently. According to Dr. Evangelista, the most common difference is that, while both bacterial and viral meningitis are infections of the meninges, the latter also affects the brain itself. Because of this, although they display similar symptoms in patients, the order in which these symptoms manifest in the person will differ depending on the type of meningitis contracted.
For example, Dr. Evangelista explains, if it's bacterial meningitis, the patient will have headaches, fever, and neck rigidity before these symptoms result in behavioral changes in the patient. For those with viral meningitis, personality changes can happen first.
5. HOW DO YOU TREAT IT?
Treatment of the disease depends on what virus caused it. If your meningitis was caused by herpes simplex, the doctors can prescribe you an antiviral drug called acyclovir.
If your illness was caused by another virus, though, medicines directly addressing them have yet to be made, says Dr. Evangelista. What the doctors will do is treat your symptoms instead. For example, if you have seizures, you will be given anti-convulsants, and if you have fever, antipyretics.
The key is to catch meningitis as early as possible so that the doctors can address your symptoms quickly. Dr. Evangelista says the disease has no specific duration, but the patient will have to stay hospitalized for monitoring of symptoms and proper medication.
6. HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU'RE ON YOUR WAY TO RECOVERY?
Dr. Evangelista says the best way to know you're getting better is to get another lumbar puncture to determine whether the parameters of your cerebrus spinal fluid have gone back to normal. You will also notice a gradual improvement in your symptoms.
7. WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT IT?
Dr. Evangelista notes that because the disease is viral and viruses are everywhere, there's no surefire way of protecting yourself from it. It doesn't hurt, however, if you keep your immune system strong and take the following precautions:
1. Maintain a healthy body and lifestyle.
2. Limit interaction with people who have fever or colds.
3. Avoid crowded places.
4. Wash your hands often.
5. Maintain proper body hygiene.
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(Photo by Mr. Wright via Flickr Creative Commons)