Meningitis is a serious infection that can be caused by a variety of microorganisms. The most common causes are bacteria and viruses. No matter the cause, meningitis can pose serious risks in communal areas. In other words, it can be risky in areas that teens and young adults tend to frequent most.

As of 2017, doctors still say vaccinations are the best methods of protection from bacterial meningitis. But there are other preventative care options you can teach your teen so they know how to protect themselves from the infection.

Personal hygiene

Bacterial meningitis spreads through the air from microscopic fluids that belong to infected individuals, most often saliva and secretions from the respiratory tract. These fluids can then land on surfaces others may touch, or pass directly from person to person. This spread of infection is similar to the flu virus. Meningitis can spread easily in communal areas because there can be a lot of people in small spaces.

One of the best ways your teen can protect themselves is by practicing good personal hygiene. They should wash their hands often, especially before eating or after being in a common area.

You can also encourage your teen to avoid sharing:

  • drinks
  • food
  • utensils
  • toothbrushes
  • water bottles
  • lip balm

Healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle can also go a long way in keeping your immune system in top shape. Even the healthiest teens aren’t completely immune to illnesses. But infectious diseases like meningitis hit people with decreased immunity hardest.

You’ll want to encourage your teen to eat well, exercise, not smoke, and get plenty of sleep. Drinking adequate amounts of water is also a must. Stress-reducing measures, like meditation and yoga, can offer relief from a hectic schedule too.

Preventive measures after exposure

If you think your teen has been exposed to bacterial meningitis, call their pediatrician right away, ideally within 24 hours. If close contact with meningitis has occurred, antibiotics are recommended for prevention of the disease. In theory, this measure can help prevent the onset of infection, but it’s not completely foolproof.

In the meantime, your doctor may also tell you to be on the lookout for symptoms of a meningitis infection. These tend to be similar to the flu, but are more severe. Signs of meningitis can include:

  • a high fever that suddenly appears
  • rash
  • excruciating headaches
  • confusion
  • stiffness in the neck
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fatigue
  • appetite loss
  • sensitivity to light

If your child develops any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away. Also, talk to your teen about the signs of meningitis so they can look out for them while traveling or in school.

Immunizations: The best source of protection

A healthy lifestyle can support the immune system and offer some boost against illnesses like meningitis. But when it comes to preventing these types of infections, doctors recommend meningitis vaccines as the best source of protection.

The vaccines available cover different types of meningococcal bacteria, so make sure your teen has received the appropriate vaccine at the recommended ages. Doctors suggest both of these vaccines depending on the age of your preteen or teen:

  • the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, covering the four most common meningococcal bacterial types: A, C, W, and Y
  • the meningococcal B vaccine (MenB), covering type B

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine is typically administered between 11 and 12 years of age. The booster shot is given five years after the initial vaccine.

A second vaccine series, the MenB shot, can offer some additional benefit. It covers the less common meningococcal type B. However, this type has recently been responsible for meningitis outbreaks on college campuses. You may ask your doctor about getting your teen vaccinated with MenB, even if they’ve already had the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. MenB may be especially helpful in the older teen who is off to college, military school, or camp.

The bottom line

Taking preventative measures against meningitis is your best bet against the severe infection. Immunizations can offer the best protection when combined with a healthy lifestyle and smart hygiene practices. Talk to your doctor about your child’s health history and any concerns. And if you or your teen notices any signs of meningitis, seek medical attention immediately in order to decrease the risk of life-threatening complications.