What is bacterial meningitis, the disease that killed Jeff Beck and how to prevent it

The legendary guitarist died after contracting bacterial meningitis. Know what this disease is and how to avoid it.

Jeff Beck died on Wednesday at the age of 78. The death came after the legendary rock guitarist contracted bacterial meningitis, according to a statement posted on official social media accounts and confirmed to CNN by his publicist.

“On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of the passing of Jeff Beck,” the statement read. “After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he passed away peacefully yesterday. His family is asking for privacy as they process this terrible loss.

Incredible as it is, death can occur within hours of contracting bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Swelling is typically caused when an infection attacks the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. However, most people recover from the disease, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Those who recover can be left with lifelong disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss and learning disabilities,” the CDC notes on its website.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis

Symptoms of the disease can mimic those of the flu or Covid-19 and include severe headaches, fever, nausea or vomiting, mental confusion, sensitivity to light, drowsiness or trouble waking up, and stiff neck.

“Meningitis can be acute, with rapid onset of symptoms, it can be chronic, lasting a month or more, or it can be mild or aseptic,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.

See a doctor right away if you or a loved one has a sudden high fever, a severe headache that doesn’t go away, you experience confusion, vomiting or pain, a stiff neck, and limited mobility.

Newborns are more susceptible than other age groups, according to the CDC. Signs to look for include irritability, vomiting, inactivity, poor diet, abnormal reflexes, and a raised “tender spot” on the head. [De acordo com a Direção-Geral de Saúde, “o tratamento precoce da meningite é fundamental para a eficácia do mesmo e aumenta as probabilidades de uma recuperação sem sequelas. Habitualmente é tratada com terapêutica medicamentosa, com a toma de antibióticos. Em caso de suspeita da doença, deve procurar o seu médico assistente, o mais rápido possível, para que lhe seja feito o diagnóstico e iniciar o tratamento.”]

How do you get bacterial meningitis?

Several bacteria can cause meningitis, as can viruses, parasites, fungi, amoebas, and some injuries, medications, and conditions like lupus or cancer. Treatment varies based on the cause of the meningitis, so it’s important to know the source. To find out, doctors take blood samples or do a lumbar puncture, which they send to a lab for analysis.

[De acordo com o site da Direção-Geral de Saúde, “a meningite bacteriana transmite-se através do contacto direto com gotículas e secreções nasais favorecidas pela tosse, espirros, beijos e pela proximidade física a outros doentes com a infeção”.]

“Doctors treat bacterial meningitis with a range of antibiotics. It’s important to start treatment as soon as possible,” the CDC adds. Viral meningitis, while serious, is far less deadly than the bacterial version, and people with normal immune systems typically get better on their own, the CDC says.

A viral case of meningitis is “generally considered to be non-contagious”, according to Meningitis Now, a UK information and support charity. “Viral meningitis is not passed on to others through close contact — unlike the meningococcal form of bacterial meningitis — so no preventive treatment is needed for family members,” the group said.

The types of bacteria that cause meningitis can be spread in a variety of ways. Group B Streptococcus and E. coli bacteria can be passed from mother to child during childbirth.

Pregnant women are also susceptible to Listeria monocytogenes infections, which can lead to “miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, or life-threatening infection of the newborn, including meningitis,” says the CDC.

Several other bacteria that cause meningitis — Haemophilus influenzae, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae — are passed on to others through coughing or sneezing. Bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis are spread by sharing saliva or spit, which typically occurs when people kiss, cough or live in close contact.

Not everyone who spreads the bacteria that causes meningitis gets sick. Some people carry these germs in their nose or on their bodies without knowing it. “These people are ‘carriers’. Most carriers never get sick, but they can still spread the bacteria to others,” notes the CDC.

People with certain medical conditions, such as HIV infection or severe immune deficiency, those without a spleen and patients undergoing chemotherapy, are more likely to get the disease, the CDC says. Travelers to sub-Saharan Africa, which has a “meningitis belt” that stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia, are also at increased risk.

meningococcal meningitis

Meningococcal disease refers to any disease caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The infection can lead to meningitis and a serious bloodstream infection called sepsis or blood poisoning. Sepsis can spread throughout the body within hours, quickly causing gangrene of the extremities and organ failure.

A rash can be a sign of meningococcal meningitis, along with the typical symptoms of high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, confusion, and sensitivity to light.

“Meningococcal disease is rare and has been declining in the United States since the 1990s. However, it is a serious disease with a significant risk of death or permanent disability in people who contract it,” according to the CDC.

“Even if cured, meningococcal disease kills 10 to 15 out of 100 infected people. And of those who survive, about 10 to 20 out of 100 will suffer from disabilities such as hearing loss, brain damage, kidney damage, loss of limbs , system problems, or severe scarring from skin grafts,” the agency adds.

There are cases that occur during summer camps or in college dorms, because they are closed, taking the lives of students like freshman Sara Stelzer, of San Diego State University. She died in 2014 three days after contracting a strain of meningococcal meningitis that was not included in the recommended vaccine at the time.

How to prevent meningitis

Keeping you and your family up to date on vaccinations is a key way to prevent bacterial and viral meningitis, advises the CDC.

[Além da vacinação, a Direção-Geral de Saúde recomenda “limitar o contacto com doentes com a mesma doença; manter uma alimentação e estilo de vida saudáveis; higiene das mãos (…) e etiqueta respiratória”.]

There are four basic types of vaccines: pneumococcal vaccines, Hib vaccines, meningococcal vaccines, and the Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine, which protects against tuberculosis.

A meningococcal vaccine protects against serogroups A, C, W, and Y. A different vaccine called MenB is used to protect against serogroup B, the disease that has claimed the lives of several college students in the United States.

The effectiveness of the vaccine may decrease over time, so check with your doctor if a booster is needed.

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