Meningitis is an inflammation of membranes around your brain and spinal cord. It triggers symptoms like fever, headache, and a stiff neck. In most people, meningitis is caused by a viral infection, but bacterial and fungal infections could be other potential causes.
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Symptoms of meningitis
- Following are the possible signs and symptoms of meningitis:
- Stiff neck
- Sudden high fever
- A severe headache that seems different than normal
- Headache with nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty in concentration
- Sensitivity to light
- No appetite or thirst
- Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)
Causes of meningitis
Most meningitis is caused by viral infections, followed by bacterial infections and, rarely, fungal infections.
- Bacterial meningitis: Bacteria may enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain and spinal cord, causing acute bacterial meningitis. It can also occur when bacteria directly invades the meninges. This is usually caused by ear or sinus infection, a skull fracture, or, maybe after some surgeries.
Bacteria causing acute bacterial meningitis:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). This bacterium is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in humans. It can cause pneumonia or ear or sinus infections.
- Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) - These bacteria commonly cause an upper respiratory infection but can cause meningococcal meningitis, if it enters the bloodstream.
- Listeria monocytogenes (listeria). These bacteria are found most commonly in unpasteurized cheeses, hot dogs, and luncheon meats. Newborns, pregnant women, newborns, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to this bacteria.
Viral meningitis is generally mild and may cure on its own. Viruses like herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps, West Nile virus, etc. can cause viral meningitis.
Slow-growing organisms (such as fungi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis) on invading brain or spinal cord may cause chronic meningitis. The common symptoms of chronic meningitis are fever, headache, vomiting and mental cloudiness.
Fungal meningitis is rare. It may mimic acute bacterial meningitis but it isn’t contagious from person to person. Cryptococcal meningitis is a common variant that affects people with immune deficiencies, like AIDS. It's life-threatening if not treated with right antifungal medication.
How Is Meningitis Diagnosed?
A proper health history of a patient is studied. After that, physical examination depending on age is done to check a fever, an increased heart rate, neck stiffness, and reduced consciousness. Your doctor do spinal tap with a lumbar puncture to observe any increased pressure in the central nervous system.
Other tests for diagnosis include:
- Blood cultures to identify bacteria in the blood.
- Checking total blood count.
- Chest X-rays to reveal the presence of pneumonia, tuberculosis, or fungal infections.
- CT scan to identify other problems like brain abscess or sinusitis.
The treatment is determined by the cause of meningitis.
- For bacterial meningitis, immediate hospitalization is required. You need immediate medical attention after the condition has been diagnosed. The bacterial meningitis is treated with intravenous antibiotics. However, there is no specific antibiotic for this variant and medication depends on the associated bacteria.
- For fungal meningitis, medicament with antifungal agents is prescribed.
- Viral meningitis generally cured on its own. Usually, the symptoms go away within two weeks. So, there are no serious or long-term medications provided to the patients in this case.
How Is Meningitis Prevented?
- To prevent meningitis, you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take care of the following:
- Take proper rest
- Quit smoking
- Avoid contacting people who are ill
- Even certain vaccinations can prevent certain types of meningitis. Some of the vaccinations that are prescribed by doctors include Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, and meningococcal vaccine