A variety that is especially scary is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria, which can strike quickly and cause long-term disability or death in a quarter of its victims.
The symptoms are relatively non-specific and include headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Medical attention should unquestionably be sought if there is confusion, extreme irritability, stiff neck, a bruise-like rash or sensitivity to light. The diagnosis is based on testing of the spinal fluid. If caught early and treated with intravenous antibiotics, the prognosis can be quite good. It is important to note that parental self-medication with antibiotics by mouth can delay the diagnosis and significantly worsen outcome. As it is, the fatality rate is 10 to 15%, and up to 20% of survivors are left with impaired hearing, mental retardation or loss of limbs.
The age groups that are at highest risk are infants under a year of age, and those between 16 and 21 years in group living conditions like college dormitories, army barracks or overnight camps.
Fortunately, there are safe and effective vaccines available to prevent Neisseria meningitis. There is a C only strain for those over 2 months, an ACWY combination for those over 12 months, and most recently, a newly developed vaccine against the B strain. In Hungary, and most of Europe, the B variant is the most common. The meningitis B vaccine should be considered in all children, especially infants in daycare and those going off to university. Please speak to your pediatrician for details.