Meningitis, a Layperson's Theory on a 'Silent' Health Success Story

From: Case Health - Health Success Stories
Published: Mon Mar 14 2005

Why most of us don't develop Meningitis may be a powerful 'silent' (untold) health success story.

Success stories are valuable. Why?

If a company has a business plan and model that results in success other companies will take notice of that success and copy it.

In the business world this is called espionage (just kidding). In the business world this is called 'best practice' and it's about identifying what works best and why it works best, then recording (creating guidelines, policies and processes) how the success was achieved. Until the success is analysed, broken down into steps and recorded, the success is not easily repeatable.

In a nutshell that means scoping both what people did and what resources they used to achieve success, then writing down the details so anyone can repeat the same steps and achieve the same successful results. The best-loved chocolate cake is easily reproduced once the recipe has been written down and shared.

What do we know about Meningitis?

Meningitis is the term that describes inflammation of the meninges (inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding our brains). There are many possible causes for inflammation of the meninges ... viral, bacterial, fungal, allergic, etc; and though the word itself is feared most types of Meningitis are not critical.

Of these causes, Bacterial Meningitis is the more serious. The most common culprits for the development of an infection that may result in Bacterial Meningitis are; Streptococcus Pneumoniae, Haemophilus Influenzae, Listeria Monocytogenes, and Neisseria Meningitis (commonly known as meningococcus). Of these, it is Neisseria Meningitis (meningococcus) that causes the most serious form of bacterial meningitis, Meningococcal Meningitis.

Meningococcal meningitis is less dangerous than Meningococcal Septicaemia (blood poisoning/infection of the blood) which is critical, can cause toxic shock, and is evidenced by the rash most people associate with the word 'Meningitis'.


There are vaccines that protect against some forms of meningitis and septicaemia but they don't prevent all forms of meningitis.

Signs & Symptoms

(1) Meningococcal Septicaemia has different symptoms to Meningitis. A person with Meningococcal Septicaemia may never experience a headache or stiff neck. Common to both Meningitis and Meningococcal Septicaemia are; fever (usually high), drowsiness/impaired consciousness, irritable, fussy, agitated, severe headache, vomiting. Symptoms associated primarily with Meningitis are; stiff neck, pain on moving neck, rash (not always). Symptoms associated primarily with Meningococcal Septicaemia are; rash, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, pain in muscles, joints, and abdomen.

(2) Meningitis symptoms in infants and children may include a high-pitched whimpering, moaning or crying, dislike of being handled, fretful arching back, neck retraction and refusing feeds or vomiting. Any victim may show these symptoms; blank staring expression, difficult to wake up or very lethargic, unrelenting fever (does not go away), pale, blotchy skin colour, sensitivity to light, cold feet or hands, nausea or vomiting and/or joint pain. A red/purple rash (bleeding under the skin). This may appear as little red pin pricks, hickeys or purplish bruises. This is a life threatening sign.

Preventives: Don't share drinks, food, eating utensils, tooth brushes or makeup, water bottles, sippy cups, unclean toys or sweat towels with others, even family members. Cover your mouth with your hand or tissue when you cough. Avoid public water fountains. If these must be used, teach children the proper way to use them, make sure they are in good working order and clean. Avoid containers of ice, water or other liquids where several people are dipping with cups or hands. Wash yours and your child's hands frequently. Brush yours and your children's teeth two ~ three times a day. Wipe noses when cold or allergy is present. Make sure these preventives are expressed to your day care provider or school.

As symptoms can resemble those of flu and other viral infections it's important to be vigilant. Bacterial meningitis is considered a medical emergency.

Where do the bacteria come from?

Bacteria love warm, moist environments so they could be just about anywhere. Chances are some strains will be found on dishcloths and other moist areas in your home or in soil. From there they can move into other warm, moist environments such as ears, throats, nasal passages, and lungs. They can multiply very quickly and cause all sorts of irritating nasties such as sore throats, upper respiratory infections, ear infections, sinusitis, and food poisoning.

It seems logical that simple hygiene practices like cleaning, hand washing, and covering sneezes would eliminate most transmissions … but what about those who may already be hosting these nasties? Many may host bacteria but few will develop meningitis.

Why some do but most don't.

If you've ever had a sore throat, ear, sinus, respiratory, or other infection, it's possible you've hosted bacteria capable of causing bacterial meningitis yet were spared because the bacteria wasn't able to access your bloodstream or your meninges.

Studies have suggested a higher prevalence amongst pre-schoolers and teens. Both of these groups are known to happily share body fluids via toys and tongues, but transmission of bacteria is only one part of the puzzle.

Bacteria can happily reside in the ear, nose, chest, or throat and not develop into a more severe infection. How does the bacteria obtain access to the bloodstream?

There must be opportunity, but what opportunity?

Interestingly, bacteria can enter the bloodstream from the mouth during dental procedures and when gums are not healthy (gingivitis). They can cause very serious heart diseases. If there's something else pre-schoolers and teens share … perhaps it's teething problems.


NB For your family's health … if your family suffers sore throats your dishcloth may be the culprit. Children will often grab a dishcloth to wipe their hands and mouth.

If in doubt, hold the cloth near your nose. If it has a smell, wash it or replace it immediately and always use clean cloths for washing dishes and wiping little hands or faces.

By C Kerr,

'Case Health – Health Success Stories' website


(1)Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada

(2) Meningitis Angels



Cris Kerr
Case Health - Health Success Stories
Email: &


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