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Recognizing the symptoms of meningitis

A Boston middle school student died earlier this week, and bacterial meningitis is thought to be the cause of death. According to reports, the young girl complained to a school nurse that she felt sick on Friday; by Monday night she had died.

Meningitis is the term for an infection that affects the brain and spinal cord. There are lots of different kinds, from mild types of viral meningitis that completely resolve without any problems, to the severe kind of bacterial meningitis that is being blamed for this young girl’s death.

It’s a tragic story and one that’s likely to get media coverage because of the patient’s young age and the fact that bacterial meningitis can be contagious. It’s most likely to be transmitted from person to person in close living quarters, especially through coughing or sneezing, kissing or other activities where people share saliva, like sharing drinking glasses or water bottles.

It’s understandable that parents might become frightened when they hear about meningitis, but there is usually no reason to panic. Bacterial meningitis is uncommon, affecting only about 1 in 100,000 Americans each year.  And while it can spread between close contacts (especially people who live together, like families or students in dorms), people who have had more casual contact with meningitis are rarely at risk.

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