Meningitis is an acute inflammation of protective membranes that shield the spinal cord and the brain. It is sometimes caused by drugs or medications, but the typical cause is infection with viruses or microorganisms such as bacteria. Because the inflammation is so close to the brain and spinal cord, the two key components of the central nervous system, meningitis can be fatal and is classified as a medical emergency whenever it occurs.
There are certain risk factors for meningitis to which people should pay attention. One common risk factor is genetics; there are people who will inherit a greater susceptibility to this infection. They will just be more likely to become infected when in contact with the organisms that can cause meningitis. Males also get this infection more frequently than do females. Crowded living conditions is another risk factor, as is exposure to rodents and insects; both these conditions increase the risk of infection due to more exposure to germs coming from the people or animals.
People who were not immunized as children are also more susceptible to the infection, particularly those who did not get shots for Hib disease, pneumococcal infections, or mumps before they were two years old. Older adults who have are unvaccinated for pneumococcal infections are also at higher risk for this infection. People who do not have well-functioning spleens are also more prone to becoming infected, as are people who travel to areas where meningitis is widespread. Since these travelers are at greater risk, they should make efforts to get meningococcal shots.
There are also health conditions that serve as risk factors. One is a birth defect of the skull, or an injury of the head or brain. Babies who do not have properly protected central nervous systems are more likely to be infected. People who are undergoing kidney dialysis, as well as those who have other infections (mumps, upper respiratory infections, tuberculosis, Lyme disease, syphilis, and illnesses associated with herpes, to name a few), are at greater risk. People who have cochlear implants are at increased risk as well, as are people who were born with mothers who were infected with an organism that is able to cause this condition. There are bacteria, as well as viruses (such as the herpes virus and enteroviruses), that can be passed from mothers to babies during the birthing process and leave the children vulnerable to infection.
Additionally, individuals who have had meningitis at some point in the past are more susceptible to contracting an infection again. This is more true with some people than with others; for example, it is particularly true in the case of people who have injuries to the face or skull, those with birth defects, those with a defective immune system, and those who have unforeseen reactions to certain medicines.
Everyone should beware of meningitis, but if you fall into one of these risk factor categories, you should be vigilant and make sure that you avoid the infection as well as you can.