Bacterial meningitis is a potentially fatal disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria is passed between people via respiratory secretions, and can be contracted by kissing or sharing items that have come in contact with the secretions, such as utensils, straws, cigarettes, drinking glasses or bottles, or toothbrushes.
College students, particularly those living in dormitories, are at an increased risk for bacterial meningitis, because of close living quarters, and the tendency to share items. Young adults who drink alcohol heavily or smoke, or who are chronically sleep-deprived or recovering from an illness are also at an increased risk because their immune systems are compromised.
The disease is frightening in its speed; symptoms can progress to life threatening within two days, and sometimes, within a few hours.
If you or someone you know notices any of these symptoms and suspects meningitis, seek medical attention immediately.
Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics, and patients often require hospitalization. Despite antibiotic treatment, 10 to 13 percent of those who develop an infection will die from the disease. Of the survivors, 10 percent will suffer long-term disabilities, which may include amputated limbs, hearing loss or brain damage. Early treatment dramatically increases the patient's chance of survival.
Vaccination is the best way to reduce your risk of contracting the disease. A vaccine that prevent two of the three major strains of bacterial meningitis is currently available. Proper hand washing techniques and an awareness of how the disease is contracted can also reduce the risk.