Meningitis - Causes Symptoms and Treatment
Brain and spinal cord diseases are considered some of the most lethal diseases. If you are aware of the term meningitis and especially if your little one has unexplained fever and headache, then it’s a cause of concern. Meningitis which is dangerous in every sense, directly affects the brain, rendering a person with several disabilities.
It is a rare infection which affects the gentle membranes called meninges. These membranes are protective lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord of a human being. The disease is common in children but adults are also affected.
How does meningitis spread?
It is very common that we talk about meningitis as though it is one disease, but it can be caused due to different microorganisms. Virus, fungi and bacteria, all can cause meningitis with different symptoms of each. But viral meningitis is the most common, while bacterial one is the most fatal.
There are several mediums through which a person can get this disease such as saliva, mucous and living in close contact.
Types of Meningitis
Viral meningitis is a less severe form and most of the people affected can recover completely without treatment. Meningitis caused by something other than bacteria is called as Aseptic Meningitis which is most commonly referred as viral meningitis.
Let’s have a look at the list of viruses that causes meningitis:
- Herpes simplex virus
- Measles virus
- Influenza virus
- Mumps virus
- Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus
- West Nile virus, which is most active in August and October and spread through the bit of mosquito
- Enteroviruses, which lives in the digestive tract of a human being but usually do not cause any disease
Bacterial meningitis is less common but most dangerous, resulting in potential long-term complications. Bacterias which causes meningitis enter through the bloodstream, through ear or sinus infection, skull fracture or after some surgeries.
Bacterial meningitis in some cases needs immediate medical emergency as without quick treatment, chances of brain damage remain high. In severe cases, death can occur within a few hours. Several bacterias that can cause meningitis are:
Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus)
This bacterium mostly affects older infants and children
It was used to be the most common cause of meningitis but since the introduction of vaccine, the occurrence is rare
Neisseria meningitides (meninogococcus)
This is another leading cause of meningitis in children and mostly infects the upper respiratory system. This bacteria is highly contagious but can be prevented through vaccination
Listeria monocytogenes (listeria)
This type of bacteria can be found in raw milk, unpasteurized cheeses, and raw meats. Pregnant women, newborns and people with weak immune systems are more vulnerable
Fungi meningitis on the other hand, is rare and typically occurs in the people with weak immune system. Fungi meningitis isn’t contagious. Cryptococcal meningitis is a type of fungal infection that could be deadly if not treated with anti-fungal medication.
Other possible types
Meningitis can also occur due to autoimmune disorders, syphilis, tuberculosis, leptospirosis (infection in rodents, dogs) and some types of cancers. These are less common.
Symptoms of Meningitis in Newborns
- Constant crying
- High fever
- Decreased feeding
- Stiffness in body and neck
- Bulge on the top of the head (fontanel)
Symptoms of Meningitis in children and adults
It is better to consult a doctor as initial symptoms may mimic signs of influenza.
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Light sensitivity
- Skin rash (in case of meningococcal meningitis)
- Sudden high fever
- A severe headache different from normal
- Stiffness in neck
- Headache accompanied by nausea and vomiting
When to call the doctor?
In case of severe unrelenting headache and altered mental status, call the doctor immediately.
Risk Factors of Meningitis
There are several risk factors, some are unavoidable:
- Weak Immune system or people with HIV, AIDS
- Organ transplant
- Skipping vaccination
- Being younger than 5 years (viral meningitis)
- Living in close communities such as boarding schools, dormitories and military bases (in case of meningococcal meningitis)
Complications of Meningitis
The complications of meningitis are serious enough to require immediate medical emergency. The longer the disease is left untreated, the higher the chances of permanent damage to different organs.
- Memory loss
- Hearing loss
- Learning disability
- Kidney failure
- Brain damage
- Fluid buildup between brain and the skull
Diagnosis of Meningitis
A general physician or a pediatrician can diagnose the disease. Mainly fever, heart rate, neck stiffness and causes of reduced consciousness are checked. The team of doctors would conduct following tests:
Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
This test determines the increased pressure in the central nervous system. The spinal tap can also help the doctor find the best antibiotic for the treatment. The test can also effectively find any bacteria in the spinal fluid.
Blood sample is taken and placed in a special dish to see if the bacteria grows or not. The microorganisms would then be analyzed under microscope
It can reveal swelling and inflammation of the head. Other body parts such as chest or sinus may also show infection
How meningitis is treated?
The treatment will depend on the type of meningitis you or your child is suffering from:
As this is the most severe of all, it needs immediate medical care. Mostly, intravenous anti-biotics are corticosteroids are given. This reduces symptoms such as swelling and seizures. The patient might need hospitalization.
The condition resolves on its own and doesn’t need treatment. Your doctor may advise you to take bed rest and plenty of fluids.
This is commonly treated with anti-fungal medication. You would also need to have plenty of liquids and drugs for controlling pain and fever.
Prevention methods of Meningitis
A lot of steps can be taken to keep meningitis away from you and your family.
- Meningococcal meningitis can be prevented by vaccination. Kids usually get a shot at the age of 11 or 12 while they will need a further booster shot at the age of 16. College students, military recruits, travelers, lab workers and people with damaged spleen or weak immune system should get this vaccine
- Hemophilis influenza too can be prevented by vaccination. Usually, kids are given this when they are 2-15 months old. This vaccination also prevents children from pneumonia-causing infection.
- Avoid contact with sick people
- Practice good hygiene by not sharing foods, utensils, straws, toothbrushes, etc.
- Hand washing is the key to prevent not only meningitis but also many other contagious diseases
- Eat a healthy well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Pregnant women must take care of foods such as unpasteurized milk or cheese, raw meat, etc.
Meningitis is comparatively a common disease in children, so you need to be extra cautious. Finding out the exact cause of the disease could help in effective treatment. So avoid giving medication to children at home. If you suspect any of the immediate signs of meningitis, don’t delay calling the doctor.
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2. Brouwer, M. C., McIntyre, P., Prasad, K., & van de Beek, D. (2015, February 3). Corticosteroids for bacterial meningitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 9 read more
3. Meningitis. (n.d.) read more