Wednesday, April 5

All you need to know about this new disease called "Meningitis."


Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. This inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, but can be a result of injury, cancer, or certain drugs.It is important to know the specific cause of meningitis because the treatment differs depending on the cause.

Bacterial Meningitis

Meningitis caused by bacteria, like Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, and Neisseria meningitidis can be life threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Vaccines are available to help protect against some kinds of bacterial meningitis.

Viral Meningitis

Meningitis caused by viruses, like enteroviruses, arboviruses and herpes simplex viruses, is serious but often is less severe than bacterial meningitis, and people with normal immune systems usually get better on their own.  There are vaccines to prevent some kinds of viral meningitis.

Parasitic Meningitis

Various parasites can cause meningitis or can affect the brain or nervous system in other ways. Overall, parasitic meningitis is much less common than viral and bacterial meningitis.

Amebic Meningitis

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a rare and devastating infection of the brain that is caused by a free-living microscopic ameba called Naegleria fowleri which is found naturally in warm water and soil.

Non-Infectious Meningitis

Sometimes meningitis is not spread from person to person, but is instead caused by cancers, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), certain drugs, head injury, and brain surgery.

How it Spreads

Bacterial Meningitis
Bacterial meningitis is spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if living in the same household.
Viral Meningitis
If you have close contact with a person who has viral meningitis, you may become infected with the virus that made the person sick. However, you are probably not likely to develop meningitis from the illness. That’s because only a small number of people who get infected with the viruses that cause meningitis will actually develop meningitis.

Meningitis Versus Meningococcal Disease:
There IS a Difference

Sick boy
Having meningitis doesn't always mean you have meningococcal disease. And having meningococcal disease doesn’t necessarily mean you have meningitis. Meningococcal disease is any infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. Meningococcal meningitis and septicemia are two common and serious infections caused by these bacteria. More about meningococcal disease...


Early meningitis symptoms may mimic the flu (influenza). Symptoms may develop over several hours or over a few days.
Possible signs and symptoms in anyone older than the age of 2 include:
  • Sudden high fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache that seems different than normal
  • Headache with nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking
  • Sensitivity to light
  • No appetite or thirst
  • Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)

Signs in newborns

Newborns and infants may show these signs:
  • High fever
  • Constant crying
  • Excessive sleepiness or irritability
  • Inactivity or sluggishness
  • Poor feeding
  • A bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby's head (fontanel)
  • Stiffness in a baby's body and neck
Infants with meningitis may be difficult to comfort, and may even cry harder when held.

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate medical care if you or someone in your family has meningitis symptoms, such as:
  • Fever
  • Severe, unrelenting headache
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
Bacterial meningitis is serious, and can be fatal within days without prompt antibiotic treatment. Delayed treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.
It's also important to talk to your doctor if a family member or someone you work with has meningitis. You may need to take medications to prevent getting the infection.

Risk factors

Risk factors for meningitis include:
  • Skipping vaccinations. Risk rises for anyone who hasn't completed the recommended childhood or adult vaccination schedule.
  • Age. Most cases of viral meningitis occur in children younger than age 5. Bacterial meningitis is common in those under age 20.
  • Living in a community setting. College students living in dormitories, personnel on military bases, and children in boarding schools and child care facilities are at greater risk of meningococcal meningitis. This is probably because the bacterium is spread by the respiratory route, and spreads quickly through large groups.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnancy increases the risk of listeriosis — an infection caused by listeria bacteria, which also may cause meningitis. Listeriosis increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery.
  • Compromised immune system. AIDS, alcoholism, diabetes, use of immunosuppressant drugs and other factors that affect your immune system also make you more susceptible to meningitis. Having your spleen removed also increases your risk, and patients without a spleen should get vaccinated to minimize that risk.


Meningitis complications can be severe. The longer you or your child has the disease without treatment, the greater the risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage, including:
  • Hearing loss
  • Memory difficulty
  • Learning disabilities
  • Brain damage
  • Gait problems
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Shock
  • Death
With prompt treatment, even patients with severe meningitis can have good recovery.

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