Meningitis is characterized by irritation or swelling and inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes covering spinal cord and brain. This inflammation causes changes in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which circulates through the spinal cord and brain.
What causes Meningitis?
Meningitis can be caused by viral infections as well as bacterial infections. Bacterial meningitis is usually a more serious condition than viral meningitis. Though bacterial meningitis is one of the worst types to have, it can be treated with antibiotics, so that the disease won’t pass from one person to the next. Other causes for meningitis could be cancer, a fungal infection, a parasitic infestation, an injury or a reaction to some sort of drug. The severity of meningitis depends on the source of the infection.
Types of meningitis
There are many types of meningitis existed. Some of them are:
Aseptic meningitis – could be caused by bacteria, viruses, and disease like TB
Gram negative meningitis – a bacterial infection
Carcinomatous meningitis – caused by cancer
Cryptococcal meningitis – a fungal infection
Pneumococcal meningitis – a bacterial infection
Syphilitic aseptic meningitis – caused by bacteria from untreated syphilis
H. influenza meningitis – a bacterial infection
Meningococcal meningitis – a bacterial infection
Tuberculous meningitis – caused by the tuberculosis bacilli bacteria
Staphylococcal meningitis – a bacterial infection
Of all of the above mentioned types of meningitis, bacterial meningitis is definitely a real medical emergency, and needs immediate hospitalization. Viral meningitis is somewhat mild but happens more frequently than bacterial meningitis. Meningitis often occurs during the late summer season of the year and often affects adults and children under 30 years age. Most infections take place in children below 5 years age. Most types of viral meningitis occur due to enteroviruses, which can be spread through bodily fluids as in the saliva and gastrointestinal tract.
There are many different types of viruses which can result meningitis. For example, herpes virus, the same viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes, can cause viral meningitis. The viral types of meningitis aren’t usually as emergent as the bacterial forms of the disease.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
The symptoms of meningitis may include:
Change of mental status
Decreased level of consciousness
Bulging fontanels in babies
Nausea and vomiting
Opisthotonos (rigid posture arched backward)
Sensitivity to light
Lack of appetite in children
How is meningitis diagnosed?
Meningitis can be diagnosed through lumbar puncture, blood culture, gram stain examination with microscopy, CSF culture and CSF cell count (count the number of red and white blood cells in the cerebrospinal fluid after lumbar puncture). Other diagnostic tests would include a CT scan of the head and a chest X-ray.
What are the treatment options for meningitis?
Doctors will prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial meningitis. The types of antibiotics depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics would not be effective in treating viral meningitis. The doctor will treat the fever and pain associated with viral meningitis, but there is no specific treatment otherwise.
Intravenous fluids and other medications can also be used to prevent or treat symptoms of brain and spinal cord swelling, seizures and shock. Bacterial meningitis will require hospitalization. Depending on the severity of viral meningitis you may or may not be hospitalized. You may be hospitalized if the doctor wants to administer IV fluids. Recovery of viral meningitis is usually within a week to 10 days.
Are there any complications that could come from meningitis?
The possible complications that could occur from meningitis are hearing loss, complete deafness, vision loss, hydrocephalus (swelling in the brain), and brain damage.
Vaccinations are important to prevent the different forms of bacterial meningitis. The HiB vaccine (Haemophilus vaccine) can help in preventing meningitis in children. The Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine has become a regular childhood immunization and also it’s very effective in preventing pneumococcal meningitis. Family members and friends, who are in close contact with an individual having meningococcal meningitis, should take preventive antibiotics to prevent getting infected.
Meningococcal vaccination is suggested for teenagers ageing from 11 to 15 years. Children from age two and beyond who have immunity problems should also be vaccinated. Individuals and families planning to travel to countries where meningitis is common should also be vaccinated. Some communities organize vaccination campaigns after an epidemic of meningococcal meningitis has occurred within the community or in nearby areas.