By KATHERINE HOBY and NZPA
The main types of meningitis are viral and bacterial. They differ in severity of illness and treatment.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, the lining surrounding the brain. The strains tend to be spread by personal contact, often through coughing, sneezing, and saliva.
Viral meningitis, also known as aseptic meningitis, lasts about a week. It causes high fever, headaches and vomiting. Gastric or respiratory symptoms may be associated.
Its symptoms are less severe than bacterial meningitis.
People who contract viral meningitis are unlikely to develop the distinctive meningococcal rash. Viral meningitis runs its own course.
Although the symptoms are less severe than those of bacterial meningitis, they are similar and a patient may be admitted to hospital for observation.
Viral meningitis does not respond to antibiotics, but is unlikely to cause death. Treatment is based on rest and good nursing care.
Bacterial meningitis is a severe disease. A fifth of cases are left with some degree of disability or brain damage, such as deafness, loss of limbs or grafts to damaged skin.
It is a serious infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and fluid that surrounds the brain. The bug lurks in the throats of up to a fifth of the population, usually harmlessly.
Three main types of bacteria commonly cause bacterial meningitis. They are: haemophilus influenzae type b, neisseria meningitidis (known as meningococcal meningitis) and streptococus pneumoniae (pneumococcal meningitis).
Meningococcal meningitis is the most common form of bacterial meningitis in New Zealand. Its symptoms, which progress rapidly, include high fever, headache and a stiff neck.
They can develop over hours or days. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion and sleepiness. In advanced bacterial meningitis, bruises develop under the skin and spread quickly.
Bacterial meningitis can be treated with large doses of antibiotics, but it is vital the patient sees a doctor and starts treatment immediately.
The bacteria can spread, causing widespread meningococcal infection in the person's body and leading to meningococcal septicaemia (blood poisoning). Unless rapidly diagnosed and treated it can lead to death.
Meningitis, a generic term, covers both viral and bacterial forms.
Meningococcal meningitis, a strain of bacterial meningitis, has five different strains: A, B, C, Y, W-135. Meningococcal disease is an alternative term for meningococcal meningitis.
(Sources: The Meningitis Trust, Auckland; the Ministry of Health website; and Wellington medical officer of health Margot McLean)
By KATHERINE HOBY and NZPA