Meningitis Explained

Meningitis is characterized by the inflammation of the meninges around the brain and spinal cord. In the United States, meningitis is primarily caused by a viral infection. However, fungal and bacterial infections can cause meningitis as well. The symptoms of meningitis are flu-like. Some symptoms of meningitis include a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, high fevers, seizures, skin rashes, lack of appetite and thirst, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and sensitivity to light.

In babies younger than the age of 2 with meningitis may have a high fever, inactivity, body stiffness, poor feeding, excessive sleepiness or irritability, constant crying, and a bulge in the soft spot on the top of the head.

           Viral infections are the most causes of this disease, followed by bacterial infections and, rarely, fungal infections. Viral meningitis is usually mild and can go away by itself. The most common virus that causes meningitis is called enterovirus, and are most commonly found during early fall and late summer. Other viruses such as HIV, West Nile virus, herpes simplex virus, and mumps can also cause viral meningitis. Acute bacterial meningitis is when bacteria enter one’s bloodstream and travels to the brain. There are many different strains that cause acute bacterial meningitis such as streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, listeria monocytogenes, and haemophilus influenzae.

Finally, fungal meningitis is the most rare form of meningitis. Fungal meningitis is not contagious from person to person. However, it is life threatening if not treated promptly. Cryptococcal meningitis is the most common form of fungal meningitis that mainly impacts those with an immune deficiency.

           There are many risk factors for meningitis such as skipping the recommended vaccinations, being below the age of 5 (for viral meningitis) or 20 (for bacterial meningitis), being pregnant, living in a small community setting such as a military base or college dorm, and having an immune system deficiency. Meningitis are also known to have severe complications. There is a higher risk for complications the longer this disease is left untreated. Usually, the complications are related to neurological damage such as brain damage, learning disabilities, hearing loss, memory difficulty, seizures, gait problems, shock, kidney failure, and death.

           In order to diagnose meningitis, there are certain tests and procedures that doctors must administer such as a blood culture, imaging (CT and MR scans), or a spinal tap. An acute bacterial meningitis must be treated as soon as possible with intravenous antibiotics and corticosteroids. The earlier the treatment, the less chances for complication such as seizures and brain damage, and the higher chances for a good recovery.

The doctor will either treat the bacterial meningitis with either antibiotics or corticosteroids depending on the type of bacteria that has infected the individual. Another option of treatment is draining out any infected sinuses or mastoids such as the bones behind the outer ear that connects to the middle ear. Unfortunately, antibiotics cannot be used to treat viral meningitis. However, viral meningitis often goes away by itself in several weeks. Mild cases of viral meningitis can be treated by fluids, bed rest, corticosteroids to reduce brain swelling, antiviral medications, anticonvulsant medication to control seizures, and over the counter pain medications to help with the body aches and fever.

           To prevent meningitis, you should be practicing good hygiene, maintaining a healthy immune system, paying attention to the foods you eat if pregnant, and making sure you have the proper vaccinations against meningitis. The vaccinations that prevent bacterial meningitis include Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), and meningococcal conjugate vaccine.

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