Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges — a membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be either bacterial or viral.
Bacterial meningitis is usually caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, or Haemophilus influenzae. Symptoms of bacterial meningitis can include sudden onset of fever, headache, neck pain or stiffness, painful sensitivity to strong light, vomiting (often without abdominal complaints), and irritability.
All of these symptoms may or may not present. This is a disease that can quickly progress to lethargy, unresponsiveness, convulsions, and death. Prompt medical attention is extremely important. Viral meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in people with a normal immune system. The symptoms generally persist for 7-10 days and then there is complete recovery.
This is a bacterial infection that can be caused by a number of different bacteria. It is an infection of one or all of the 4 sinuses — hollow cavities — that are situated around the nose.
A sinus infection occurs when these cavities get filled with pus, which produces an ideal environment for bacteria to grow, instead of staying empty, air-filled cavities.
Common symptoms include yellow-green nasal discharge, nasal congestion, facial pain that may extend down into your teeth, fever, cough, and generalized headache and ill feeling. Several antibiotics can be used to treat this infection.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the upper lung close to the base of the trachea (the tracheobronchial tree). It includes the common cold, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough and can be caused by different organisms including Mycoplasma pneumonia, Chlamydia pneumoniae, Haemophilus species, or Streptococcus pneumoniae. Bronchitis typically begins as an upper respiratory infection, headache, sore throat, cough.
Treatment is usually rest, adequate fluid intake and a vaporizer to loosen the “junk” that accumulates in the lungs. Antibiotics, such as tetracyclines or erythromycin, are prescribed when it is a bacterial infection, although there are others that can be used.
Measles is a viral infection that spreads very quickly among people who have not had the vaccine (part of the MMR vaccine). This disease affects primarily the throat, airways, lungs, and the skin. It takes 1-2 weeks after exposure before the disease becomes active.
Initial symptoms include a high fever, coughing, runny nose, and red eyes. These are followed by the appearance of tiny, white spots in the mouth and throat and then a rash from the forehead all the way down the body. Because measles is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. The virus usually lasts around 10-14 days. For more information and appropriate diagnosis, see your doctor. Of note, the MMR vaccine provides excellent protection against the virus.
Mumps is another viral infection that is extremely contagious. The virus concentrates in the person’s saliva and anyone who is standing nearby an infected person can become infected.
Generally, it takes between two and three weeks for symptoms to appear. These symptoms generally include fever, chills, headache, and loss of appetite. After 1 or 2 days, the salivary glands on either side of the mouth may become swollen, hard, and painful. Some ear pain and painful chewing may also occur.
Because the infection is viral, it cannot be treated with antibiotics and it usually clears up in around 10 days. For more information and appropriate diagnosis, see your doctor. Of note, the MMR vaccine, of which mumps is a part, provides excellent protection against the virus.
Rubella (German Measles)
Rubella is a viral disease spread by air-born droplets or close contact to an infected person. Most cases are so mild that they are hardly noticeable. General ill-feeling and tiredness are the most common symptoms. The rash is similar to that of measles but doesn’t spread as much.
Fever, headaches and mild joint stiffness and pain are other common complaints. The virus resolves itself and there is no treatment. Of note, the MMR vaccine, of which rubella is a part, provides excellent protection against this virus.
The common cold is a viral infection that usually involves the mouth, nose and lungs. Common signs and symptoms include sneezing, coughing, runny nose and general ill-feeling. A fever is rarely present. Nasal discharge generally remains clear. Treatment is generally symptomatic. Since the cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help it. Colds generally resolve within a week.
The croup is an illness in the voice box that most commonly affects infants and children ages three months to three years. The croup usually starts with a cold, cough and sore throat.
One of the most characteristic signs of the croup is a barking cough, noisy breathing and hoarse voice. Croup attacks usually occur in the evening or during the night. The best thing the patient can do is stay calm.
A steamy bathroom — from a hot shower or a trip out into the cold night air can help relieve the coughing. Since the croup is generally caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. However, there are symptomatic treatments particularly for breathing difficulties. For more information and appropriate diagnosis and treatment, talk to your doctor.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of soft tissue — usually the skin. It can occur anywhere on the body but is most likely to be found on the arms, legs or face. It is not contagious and can be easily cured with a course of antibiotics, however, if left untreated it could get into your blood stream and cause a more serious infection.
Symptoms around the area of infection include redness, soreness, and swelling. If the infection has spread or entered the blood stream, you could also experience fever, chills, or sweating. For appropriate diagnosis and treatment, see your doctor.
Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)
Otitis media (OM) is a bacterial infection within the middle ear. OM can occur at any age but is most common between 3 months and 3 years of age. Generally, the bacteria causing the infection have migrated from the nose up the eustachian tube and into the middle ear.
Generally the first symptom is an ear ache followed by fever, possible hearing loss, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Since this is bacterial infection, antibiotics are prescribed and the symptoms should improve within a couple of days. See your doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Pneumonia, by definition, is an inflammation of the lower respiratory tract caused principally by either a bacterial or viral infection or by chemical irritation. Pneumonia can be defined as either “typical” or “atypical”.
Typical — has an abrupt onset of symptoms. Symptoms include fever, chills, rapid and difficult breathing, rapid heart rate, and coughing that produces sputum.
Atypical — has a gradual onset of symptoms. Symptoms are general and could be applied to a variety of other illness. These symptoms could include fever, headache, general ill feeling, difficulty breathing, and a dry cough.
Treatment of pneumonia depends on the organism causing it. The first concern is to identify whether it is viral, bacterial or chemical in origin. Often, viral pneumonia will lead to a secondary bacterial infection. If the pneumonia is bacterial, antibiotics will be used.
For all types of pneumonia, symptomatic treatment can include the use of acetaminophen to lower fever, bronchodilators, like albuterol, to help open the lungs and maintaining adequate fluid intake. For more information and appropriate diagnosis and treatment, see your doctor.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
RSV is a viral infection that most commonly occurs in the winter, is associated with acute respiratory distress and is occasionally fatal, particularly in the very young. Difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing are the most common symptoms associated with it.
The severity of symptoms varies from case to case ranging from mild to severe. Treatment is aimed at resolving the symptoms — particularly breathing difficuties. Occasionally, ribavirin (Virazole®), an antiviral drug, may be used to help speed recovery. For more information and appropriate diagnosis and treatment, see your doctor.
Whooping cough (pertussis)
Whooping cough is a very contagious bacterial disease caused by Bordetella pertussis. It is best known for the “whoop” caused by a spasmodic cough that ends in a prolonged, high-pitched, crowing inspiration.
Whooping cough has three stages. It begins with sneezing, watery eye, loss of appetite and coughing at night. The second stage occurs after 10-14 days and involves the “whooping” which are long episodes of hard coughing followed by the “whoop”. Excessive mucus may be coughed up during this time.
Vomiting may also be present due to the large amount of mucus. The convalescent stage begins at about the 4th week as the coughing and vomiting diminish. The illness generally lasts around 7 weeks, but the coughing may return during any upper respiratory infections for several months afterwards. Antibiotics are generally needed. For appropriate diagnosis and treatment, see your doctor.
Roseola is a viral infection that occurs in infants or very young children and is characterized by a very high fever and a distinctive rash. What is unusual about this infection is that despite a very high fever, the child is usually alert and active. Roseola generally resolves itself within a week. Treatment is symptomatic — such as acetaminophen for the fever.
Infectious Mononucleosis (Mono)
Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The virus is found in saliva and mucus. It can be transmitted through coughing, sneezing and kissing. It is diagnosed by a blood test. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, fever, sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes. Generally, the patient presents with a history of fatigue, fever, and general ill-feeling for over a week.
The fatigue is the worst in the first two to three weeks of the illness, with a fever peaking most afternoons and evenings. Enlargement of the spleen occurs about 50% of the time. Due to this effect, the patient should avoid contact sports or heavy lifting for about two months (or longer based on your doctor’s recommendations) because of the danger of rupturing the spleen, which can be fatal. Since this is a viral infection, antibiotics will not help.
Treatment is generally supportive, including rest. For more information and appropriate diagnosis and treatment, see your doctor.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus species (hence “strep”). It is characterized by an extremely sore throat and a thin whitish membrane on the back of mouth at the base of the throat.
Step throat is also characterized by a very high fever and pain on swallowing. A diagnosis can be made by performing a rapid strep test. Strep throat is treated with antibiotics and symptoms should improve within a couple of days. For more information and appropriate diagnosis and treatment, see your doctor.
This acute disease is caused by Clostridium tetani a bacillus that is found in the intestine of animals, including humans, where it is harmless. The bacillus enters a wound (usually a puncture wound) by contamination with soil, road dust or feces. This anaerobic pathogen favors necrotic tissue and/or foreign bodies. Most cases occur within 14 days of entry.
While it is uncommon in industrialized countries, this disease occurs worldwide and affects all ages. The bacillus produces a neurotoxin that causes painful muscle contractions in the cheek and neck muscles, hence the common name of lockjaw, and sometimes involves muscles of the trunk. This disease is fatal in 30-90% of cases dependent on age and therapy.
Prevention is by routine immunization with tetanus toxoid and subsequent booster shots. Infant immunization is normally given along with diptheria and pertussis vaccines as DPT. Booster immunizations should be given every10 years in the absence of injury. If injured, a booster immunization may be given on the day of injury.