There are certain diseases that instantly cause dread and fear when spoken about, especially when it comes to our kids. The mere mention of polio, measles, and meningitis create panic and fear within a community and I should know – I’m the father of an infant and every time we’re told one of these diseases is in circulation, my anxiety level goes up. Most recently, an unusual increase of viral meningitis has been observed in the western part of Michigan, and also in southern Maine. This has health officials very concerned yet determined to inform the public about its increased community presence.
But what is viral meningitis exactly, and how can you protect yourself and your family from this illness?
First, we need to understand what part of the body meningitis affects. The meninges (meh-nen-gees) are the protective layer of tissue that cover your brain and spinal cord. Based on the organs that your meninges protect, you can tell that they perform a very important job. Along with the meninges, a fluid bathes your brain and spinal cord to provide nutrients (called cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF for short). However, it is this CSF fluid that, when infected, leads to meningitis. Your meninges also rely on other tissues to support and enhance its ability to protect your nerves and brain. For example, certain cells in the nervous system produce and secrete fluid that provides nutrients to the brain and spinal cord.