Your mind is a beautiful thing. It helps you achieve incredible feats, dream of a bright future, and give you the strength to carry on when things get tough. It's that part of you that makes you what you are. Your mind is incredible, powerful, and unique.

But a beautiful mind needs a healthy brain, the organ that controls all your thoughts, emotions, and actions. A healthy brain is an incredible thing because you can use it for remarkable things such as creativity, problem-solving, and the ability to learn new things. Your brain is important to you.

The human brain is your most important organ – that's why it's essential to take good care of it. Good healthy habits, enough sleep, exercise, and reduced stress are all things that will help you keep your brain healthy. But sometimes, you need more than that to safeguard it from diseases such as meningitis.

Meningitis, the Silent Killer

Meningitis (or meningococcal disease) is a severe, and in some cases deadly, infection affecting the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by a bacterial infection and can be fatal in severe cases. Most cases of meningitis are caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides. About 1 in 10 people have these bacteria in their nose and throat without being ill. Sometimes the bacteria invade the body and cause meningitis if it spreads to the brain. About 10% of cases of meningitis in children and teens are caused by these bacteria in the United States.

How Does Meningitis Spread?

Meningitis is most often spread from person to person through close physical contact (usually through a person's saliva or mucus), such as kissing or sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils, or razors. Unvaccinated college kids, for example, are at a higher risk of contracting meningitis from roommates or other people living in close quarters.

What Are the Symptoms of Meningitis?

The first symptoms of meningitis may include a severe headache (often described as being "full of pounding" or "like someone is sitting on your head."), nausea and vomiting, changes in sleep patterns, and a stiff neck. Other symptoms may be confusion and unusual behavior.

Symptoms of meningitis may last from a few days to several weeks. In children, symptoms usually start after a week or two of having a mild upper respiratory infection. Some children may experience symptoms for only hours or days before passing away.

Who Is at a Higher Risk of Contracting Meningitis?

People who are at a greater risk of contracting meningitis include:

  • Children under 5 years old.
  • People with weak immune systems, such as those infected with HIV, AIDS, or other infections.
  • People who have had their spleen removed.
  • Military recruits
  • College students
  • and others

How Do You Treat Meningitis?

The best way to prevent meningitis is to avoid close contact with other people. If you or your child have symptoms of meningitis, see a doctor as soon as possible. Treatment is most effective if it starts early—before the infection causes permanent damage.

Doctors treat meningitis with antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), treatment must start as soon as possible. If a doctor suspects meningococcal disease, they will give the person antibiotics right away. Antibiotics help reduce the risk of dying.

There is no specific cure for meningitis, but there are ways to prevent it. The best way to protect yourself against meningitis is to get the meningitis vaccine. You can also reduce the risk of getting meningitis by using good hygiene practices and avoiding close contact with sick people. If you believe that you have become infected with meningitis, seek medical help immediately!

Are Meningitis Vaccines Available in Virginia?

Meningitis vaccines can be given to children, teens, and adults. The CDC recommends that all people get vaccinated against meningitis starting at age 11 or 12. There are two types of meningococcal vaccines licensed in the United States and available in Virginia:

  • Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) vaccines
  • Serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccines

The MenACWY vaccine is given in two doses; the first dose at 11 to 12 years (required for students in 7th grade) and the second at 16 to 17 years (for students entering 12th grade). The MenB vaccine (also called the meningococcal B) protects against a different strain of bacteria. MenB is also recommended at 16 to 18 years of age before entering college. Because the two vaccines have different strains, they are given as separate shots for the best protection.

Protect Your Beautiful Mind (And Your Brain)

Don't wait to protect your brain and that beautiful mind against meningitis. Talk to your doctor about the meningitis vaccines, find a vaccine provider in your area, or search for vaccination events in Virginia. Our state also offers several programs to cover the cost of the meningitis vaccine. Find out more here.