• Is it the Flu or Meningitis?

Meningitis risk increases during flu season. Read more about meningitis and the warning signs that something more serious than the flu may be happening.

Meningitis risk increases during flu season

Flu season is upon us! At this point, it is very likely that you know someone who is currently sick, has been sick, or may be just coming down with the flu. Most people feel really crummy for a few days up to two weeks, and then get back to feeling normal. However, while most people get through the flu without complications, a few individuals will develop meningitis. In the United States, there are an estimated 8,000-11,000 cases of meningitis per year.

Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges, the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord. Inflammation of the meninges can be caused by different conditions, but is most often triggered by a viral or bacterial infection. During the flu season, when the number of meningitis cases also tends to peak, doctors worry about bacteria such as Haemophilus influenza type B. This bacteria can be found in the nose and throat, and are usually harmless. However, in people with weakened immune systems, such as those recovering from a cold or the flu, the bacteria can sometimes spread to the brain and cause meningitis. Meningitis is life-threatening if not treated promptly.

So what are the warning signs that something more serious than the flu may be happening? People with severe headache, light-sensitivity, neck stiffness and neck pain in addition to fever should seek immediate medical attention. If meningitis is suspected, a neurologist may be called to confirm diagnosis and determine if it is bacterial or viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis requires prompt treatment with antibiotics.

The best measures to avoid any preventable illness are hand-washing and vaccination. Vaccines are available for some types of bacterial meningitis. Getting the flu shot can also help to keep you healthy. If you have any concerns about getting the flu shot, or questions about which vaccines are right for you, discuss them with your doctor.