Meningitis is most commonly caused because of infection with bacteria or virus. These germs are contagious i.e. the bacteria or viruses that cause meningitis can spread from one person to another through coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing eating utensils, a toothbrush or a cigarette. Working or living with someone, who has the disease increases your risk of developing the infection.
Steps that can help to prevent meningitis
Wash your hands.
Washing hands with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent exposure to infectious agents. Wash your hands thoroughly, especially before eating, handling or preparing food and every time you use the toilet. If soap and water is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be used. Children should be taught to wash their hands often, especially before they eat and after using the toilet or handling animals.
Eat healthy, take adequate rest, do exercises regularly, avoid smoking and alcohol. All these help maintain and boost your immune system.
Vaccines to prevent infection with bacteria that can cause meningitis are available. Some vaccines that can help to prevent bacterial meningitis are:
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine: This vaccine is given to children as part of the recommended schedule of vaccines in many countries starting at about 2 months of age. It may be given to some adults such as people with sickle cell disease or AIDS and those who don't have a spleen.
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13): This vaccine is given to children younger than 2 years to prevent the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. It may be given to children between the age of 2 and 5, who are at a high risk of pneumococcal disease such as children, who have chronic heart or lung disease or cancer.
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV): This vaccine is given to older children and adults, who need protection from pneumococcal bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA), PPSV vaccine should be given to all adults older than 65, younger adults and children with weak immune system or chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or sickle cell anaemia and people who don't have a spleen.
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4): This vaccine protects against infection with the bacteria meningococcus. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a single dose of MCV4 should be given to children aged between 11 and 12 or to any child aged between 11 and 18 who are not vaccinated. The vaccine can be given to younger children if they are at high risk of bacterial meningitis or have been exposed to someone with the disease.
In addition to self-protection, take measures to avoid infecting others if you are ill such as cover your mouth when you need to cough or sneeze and dispose the tissue in a waste basket.