2006_3_science_meningitis.jpgAs if we needed another health scare, the city DOH was a buzz yesterday with talk of four meningitis-related deaths in Brooklyn over the past three months. The culprit, a strain of the bacteria meningococcus, is very treatable with antibiotics if caught early, and apparently doesn't discriminate, having put a high school freshman in the hospital and killing Professor X, a black nationalist rapper.

The meninges are layers of soft tissue that cover the brain and can become infected, leading to meningitis (West Nile Disease, another popularized illness, is an encephalitis - infection of the brain itself). Meningitis is classically a disease of college dorms and military barracks, where close contact leads to infection. So should you be freaked out? Yes. But not about this. While meningitis is very contagious with close contact, these four cases seem to be linked to several people with a history of shared drug use. But do consider seeking attention if you develop the following classic symptoms (listed in likelihood of you actually having meningitis). By the way, hypochondriacs, headache does not equal meningitis:

· Photophobia - Eye pain caused by light (The nerves to your eyes are covered by meninges).
· Neck stiffness - From inflammation of the meninges around your spinal cord.
· Headache - Because your brain hurts when it's infected.
· Nausea and vomiting - Because you vomit from raised pressure in your head.
· Fever - Because you get a fever when you're sick.

And for the truly paranoid, there's a meningococcus vaccine.