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Biology 103
2000 First Web Report
On Serendip

Researching the Childhood Mystery

Leila Ghaznavi

When I was in fourth grade I developed a mysterious illness that my doctor could not diagnose. I had low-grade fevers every other week and each week I was a little sicker. Blood tests showed nothing and my doctor eventually told my mother that I had Mediterranean fevers of unknown origin and to send me to school. The fevers would go away on their own or I would be stuck with them for the rest of my life. During one of my healthy weeks my father took me on a tour of Europe but on the way home I became deathly ill and started running a one hundred and three degree fever on the plane. That weekend my mother took me to visit my grandmother in West Virginia. I was vomiting all the way down in the car. I had to be carried into the house because I was too weak to move. I was in such severe pain that I couldn't move my head anymore. My grandmother took one look at me and told my mother that I was going to die if I wasn't taken to the hospital. I was eventually diagnosed as having spinal meningitis and after a week in the hospital with an IV full of antibiotics, I was able to make a full recovery. But I have always been curious as to what exactly is this disease that almost killed me? What could I have had earlier in the year that was undiagnosed for so long? And how did I get it?

Spinal meningitis, simply put is "an inflammation of the meninges, the brain lining" (6). It is important not to confuse meningitis with encephalitis. Meningitis affects the lining of the brain while encephalitis is an inflammation of the actual brain and not the linings. The inflammation of the meninges may be caused from one of two things, an infection, or the presence of a non-infectious irritant, which inflames the meninges (6).

Spinal meningitis comes primarily in two forms, Viral or Bacterial, of which only viral is highly contagious (5) (1). Meningitis can be the result of a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and diseases that cause the tissues of the body to become inflamed, Behcet's disease and lupus erthyematosus being two examples of such diseases (2). Of the two forms Bacterial is the more deadly and has the worst side effects if gone untreated. Fortunately, the Bacterial form can be treated with antibiotics. Viral Meningitis, on the other hand, can only be cured with lots of bed rest and plenty of fluids, and time (1).

Bacterial meningitis focuses primarily on the nervous system and can affect all ages but has the worst effects for people who are older than 60 or under 2 years of age (1). The most common symptoms of the disease are stiff neck, vomiting, headache, irritability, fever, chills and sweating, which are all things that I suffered from. As well as red or purple skin rash, confusion, lethargy, drowsiness or unconsciousness, sore throat or symptoms similar to a respiratory illness (1).

Bacterial meningitis is spread by kissing, coughing, or sneezing, but cannot survive outside of the body (5). Thus it can't be spread through swimming pools, water supplies, factories, or buildings. I know that in the states at least, I was never around anyone with meningitis, so either I contracted it in my travels through Europe or contracted it as a result of some other disease. But since bacterial is hard to contract without direct contact, and my history of continued illness during the school year, would lead me to guess that I developed the disease in response to some other illness I had (5).

It is also possible that I just developed the disease out of bad luck. The bacteria that causes meningococcal and pneumococcal meningitis, the two most common forms of the bacterial form of meningitis, can be found living naturally in the back of the throat, nose, or upper respiratory tract and are in fact very common (5). It is not uncommon for people to be carriers for these germs for days or up to even months at a time. Ten to twenty percent of the population are carriers at any given time. Being a carrier actually helps raise one's immunity to the germs. It is very rare, but can happen, that the bacteria overwhelm the body's natural defenses, resulting in meningitis (5).

The fact that I had it at all is just extraordinarily bad luck. Bacterial meningitis is uncommon but fatal in one out of ten cases, and one out of seven survivors suffer from deafness, brain injury, or other severe handicaps (5). I am extremely lucky not to have been left with any severe handicaps. Bacterial meningitis is deadly when untreated and a disease not to be taken lightly. It is an isolated disease and can not cause wide spread epidemics like it's counterpart viral meningitis, which becomes progressively worse with each person it spreads to (5). I have known people who've had viral meningitis and it can lasts for months at a time or simple last a week but as long as the patient does not become dehydrated they should be able to make a full recovery. But there are advancements being made to help treat this form of the disease and hopefully soon there will be some treatment method.

Although the exact causes of my illness are impossible to ascertain and I'll probably never know, I'm thankful that I now have a better understanding of this disease. I can truly appreciate how lucky I am to be alive and in as good health. Bad luck seems to have put me in the path of this disease but good luck pulled me out of it with flying colors.

WWW Sources

1)www.healthnet.com

2) www.medicinenet.com/Script/Main/Art.asp?li=MNI&ArticleKey=416

3) www.medicinenet.com/Script/Main/Art.asp?li=MNI&ArticleKey=8064

4) www.medicinenet.com/Script/Main/Art.asp?li=MNI&ArticleKey=2446

5)www.musa.org

6) search.medinex.com ,


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