(No jokes today.)

1.  Meningitis refers to an inflamed state in the meninges, the membranes that cover the spinal cord and the brain and help to protect them.

2.  Viruses, bacteria, fungal infection, parasites and some drugs can bring about meningitis; viral and bacterial meningitis are the more common forms.

3.  It can be very serious and often is life threatening.

4.  Common symptoms can include an intense headache, very stiff neck, high fever and mental disorientation.  Other possible symptoms include nausea/vomiting, sensitivity to light, and irritability.

5.  If a person is suspected of having meningitis, s/he will need to have a spinal tap (in which a sample of fluid is taken from the spine) in order to determine whether or not s/he is indeed infected.

6.  If untreated, bacterial meningitis is usually fatal; viral meningitis, however, is usually much milder and often goes away without treatment.

7.  Complications can include brain damage, hearing loss and seizures, so early diagnosis and treatment is really essential.

8.  In Western countries, bacterial meningitis is found in about 3 out of 100,000 people every year; viral meningitis is found in about 11 out of 100,000 (and is found more often in the summer.)

9.  Sub-Saharan Africa is prone to meningitis epidemics, with the largest one in history causing 25,000 deaths in 1996-1997.

10.  The current steroid-related meningitis scare is fungal-based and has resulted from injections with a tainted drug that was being used to treat joint pain problems.  The anti-fungal treatment can be toxic, so carefully monitoring is required.