Amidst the H1N1 flu outbreak, my attention was diverted to news reports about a meningitis outbreak in a training academy in Malacca, Malaysia just 2 days ago. The suspected bacterial meningitis outbreak was detected on May 7 when nine trainees were referred to the hospital there after they complained of fever, cough, headaches and joint pains. Earlier,a 24 year-old trainee had succumbed to the infection while being rushed to the hospital here.
Meningitis is caused by the presence of germs (usually viruses, bacteria or fungi) within the coverings of the brain and spinal cord. While the dreaded swine and avian flus are due to viruses, meningitis caused by viruses are relatively mild and sufferers can often be treated at home.
Its when they are caused by bacteria that it becomes a real source of worry, as the infection can run a rapid and fatal course over a few hours and days, sometimes even when antibiotics have been given. Of the three types of bacteria that are the usual culprits, the one caused by Neisseria meningitidis (aka meningococcus) is the most notorious as it is highly infectious and may cause local epidemics in college dormitories, boarding schools and on military bases.
In all likelihood, this bacteria (meningococcus) is the likely culprit in this outbreak, although it will take 3-4 days for actual confirmation as the specimens taken from the victims containing this bacteria need that amount of time to grow in the lab and be conclusively identified.
Where does the bacteria come from? Don’t get paranoid, but they live in 1 out of every 10 people’s throats! Natural body resistance keeps it at bay as long as the lining of the throat remains intact.They are passed from person to person through prolonged close contact: coughing, sneezing, breathing each other’s breath or by kissing someone who is carrying the germ!
Unlike what was reported in the local press, they are not contagious and therefore cannot be passed on via cutlery or clothing.
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