BODY WATCH : Meningitis Still a Threat to Children

We're taken by surprise when a child comes down with meningitis--an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. We know the ailment is serious if not downright grave. Still, our reaction suggests that meningitis is back there in history along with polio. Not necessarily so.

Kids today are vulnerable, particularly after common childhood ailments such as an upper-respiratory or ear infection. Bacteria or viruses invade the membranes lining the nose and throat and make their way through the bloodstream into the lining around the brain.

There are a couple of precautions you can take. For starters, vaccinate a 2-month-old child for Hemophilus influenza type b, which is responsible for more than half of meningitis cases. Thereafter, be on the alert for symptoms appearing suddenly or gradually over several days, particularly after an illness:

* Persistent high fever

* Nausea and vomiting

* Stiff neck

* Sensitivity to light; headache

* Bulging fontanel in infants

* Increase in sleepiness

* Irritability and fussiness

* High-pitched cry

* Seizures

Briefly . . .

The Breast Cancer Prevention Trial at UCLA--(310) 825-2520--seeks women older than 35 who are at high risk for breast cancer for a study on whether tamoxifen (a synthetic anti-estrogen) can prevent breast cancer. (It is important that African American women participate because breast cancer is more aggressive among them.) For other trial locations throughout Southern California, call (800) 4-CANCER. . . . The American Lung Assn. of Los Angeles County and the Bellflower Unified School District will offer a community program (in English and Spanish) for Bellflower residents. "Asthma Education for Parents of Children with Asthma," will be held tonight, 7-8:30 p.m., at Bellflower Unified School District, Board Room, 16703 S. Clark Ave., Bellflower. Call (310) 866-9011 for information. . . . USC Medical Center's Department of Neurology is recruiting adults with epilepsy who are taking Tegretal or Dilantin for a new drug trial. Call (213) 226-7381. . . . The UCLA Osteoporosis Center has opened at the UCLA Medical Plaza. One in two women and one in five men will develop osteoporosis, according to Joseph Lane, the Center's director. Call (800) UCLA-MD1. . . . Admissions for heart attacks increased by 35% the week after the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake, according to Jonathan Leor, research fellow, and Robert A. Kloner, director of research at the Heart Institute of Good Samaritan Hospital. . . .

* This health roundup, compiled by Candace A. Wedlan from wire service reports, appears in Life & Style on Tuesdays.

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