HOUGHTON - When the word meningitis is spoken, it typically strikes fear into those who hear it, as it has a reputation as a deadly disease.
Yet the disease is more complex than most know, and also applies to more afflictions than just the bacterial strains that are the feared, aggressive ones.
"Meningitis means literally inflammation of the layers of connective tissues that separate your brain from the inside of your skull," Dr. Kirk Lufkin, medical director at Portage Health, said. "Infections are the ones that get the most press and the ones we worry the most about, but literally anything that causes inflammation there could be called meningitis."
The two main categories of meningitis include the more common viral - the less serious of the two that presents symptoms similar to the flu - and bacterial, which is a more aggressive form of meningitis.
"Bacterial, thankfully, is less common," said Dr. Rebecca Collaer, a pediatrician with Aspirus Keweenaw. "It can be a lot more serious, and if you don't treat it, (the person) can certainly die. It has a 4 percent mortality rate even when treated."
While viral is the less threatening of the several strains of meningitis, it still can present problems if it is getting worse while going unchecked, especially for the very young, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. Symptoms include many similar to the flu, with a stiff neck, fever and a debilitating headache.
"The typical viral meningitis in an otherwise healthy person, a young adult, for example, would be a miserable flu compounded with a horrible, horrible headache and maybe more nausea and vomiting and a stiff neck than you'd get with a typical flu," Lufkin said. "We may diagnose that and send that person home, and they get better."
The bacterial version, however, is more grave. Its incidence is only 1 to 3 in 100,000 per year in the United States, according to Collaer, but still causes problems locally and around the world. A Major League Baseball prospect recently died of the disease in the Dominican Republic, and in October 1998, an 18-year-old Michigan Technological University student named Oren Krumm died of the disease.