WEDNESDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- The incidence of bacterial meningitis dropped by 31 percent between 1998 and 2007, new government research shows.
The drop was led by reductions in infections by two powerful germs -- Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae -- that are covered by available immunizations. With fewer infections among young children, the burden of the disease is now mainly borne by older adults, the study authors found.
"The good news is that fewer people are getting bacterial meningitis. The bad news is that if you get it, it's still a very serious infection," said study co-author Dr. Cynthia Whitney, chief of the bacterial respiratory diseases branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
"There are still at least 4,000 cases a year, including about 500 that are fatal," she noted.
Results of the study are published in the May 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Bacterial meningitis is a dangerous bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, according to the CDC.
Signs of meningitis in people over the age of 2 include fever, headache and stiff neck, according to the CDC, while symptoms in newborns and infants can include fever, seizures, constant crying, a bulge in the soft spot on the head and stiffness in the body and neck. Bacterial meningitis can be contagious.
The five types of bacteria that were most responsible for bacterial meningitis in the 1970s and 1980s were Haemophilus influenzae, N. meningitidis, S. pneumoniae, group B streptococcus and Listeria monocytogenes, according to the study.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the incidence of bacterial meningitis dropped by 55 percent, likely because an infant vaccine was introduced in 1990 for H. influenzae type B
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