The Grapevine

What Is Bacterial Meningitis? Exposure Reported At Duke University

Meningitis is a serious condition where the membranes around your brain and spinal cord become inflamed. While it may be triggered by a viral infection, it can also be caused by a bacterial infection which was said to be serious and possibly life-threatening.

In most cases, the bacteria tend to spread from person to person via direct exposure to saliva. Kissing, for instance, can easily transmit the infection. Other examples include sharing a drink, a toothbrush, or being exposed to the infected person coughing. Casual forms of contact — such as shaking hands or simply touching the same object — does not transmit the infection.

Furthermore, some people can carry and spread the bacteria without becoming sick, according to Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a board-certified infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburg. Getting vaccinated on schedule was an effective way to reduce the risk of infection caused by certain strains of bacteria.

On Monday night, it was announced an undergraduate student from Duke University had tested positive for bacterial meningitis. The student has been admitted to the hospital.

Doctors from the university, located in Durham, North Carolina, have reached out to other students who may have been in close contact with the patient. They have been advised to contact their nearest health department and take antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

This is what is typically recommended, as noted by Chris Carpenter, M.D., section head of Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. 

"If we are aware of an outbreak, we will give people who have had close contact with the [infected person] antibiotics to protect them," he told SELF in 2016. 

Once infected, a person may suddenly develop a fever, a stiff neck, a headache, and other flu-like signs. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, an increased sensitivity to light, appetite problems, and a state of confusion.

It is crucial to seek treatment as soon as possible if you suspect having bacterial meningitis. If left untreated, the affected person may go on to face serious symptoms such as seizures, increasing the risk of permanent brain damage or death.

Apart from vaccination, one can take other precautions during a potential outbreak. As always, it is important to practice regular hand washing and maintain good personal hygiene.

Avoid sharing items such as drinking bottles, lipstick, cigarettes, or anything else that could carry respiratory or throat secretions. People, especially in close communities such as a college campus, should use a tissue whenever they cough or sneeze.

For further information, students of the university were encouraged to contact student health center at (919) 681-9355, Option 2. Meanwhile, the Durham County Health Department can be contacted by non-students at (919) 560-7600.