Meningitis Definition

Meninges are the membranes that surround the spinal cord and the brain and Meningitis is a condition due to inflammation of these membranes. The intensity in which the disease presents itself among various individuals is different. Meningitis may take a few weeks to heal, however, in some cases the condition may become life-threatening. A person may be suffering from one of the many types and the symptoms that person experiences also depend on the type.

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Meningitis Causes

  • Viral Meningitis: Enteroviruses is the name of the virus group that causes this type of meningitis. The condition is usually mild and heals on its own. Mostly, the condition occurs during the late summers or early autumn. Other viruses that may cause this disease are HIV, herpes simplex virus, West Nile virus, mumps, etc.
  • Fungal Meningitis: An uncommon and chronic type of meningitis, it is contagious and spreads quickly from one person to another. A common fungal form of this disease is Cryptococcal meningitis that affects people with immune deficiencies like AIDS. If the condition is not treated at the right time, it may become life-threatening.
  • Chronic Meningitis: Chronic meningitis is a result of slow growing organisms like Mycobacterium tuberculosis and fungi that infest the fluids and membranes that surround the brain. The condition takes about two weeks or more to develop. Vomiting, fever, headaches and mental cloudiness are some of the symptoms that individual experiences in this disease.
  • Bacterial Meningitis: When bacteria enters the bloodstream and are successful in reaching the brain as well as the spinal cord, it causes acute bacterial meningitis. Similar conditions may occur when the bacteria infect the meninges directly or in case of a skull fracture, sinus or ear infection and some surgeries, etc.

Certain strains of bacteria can cause different types of bacterial meningitis:

  1. Neisseria meningitides (meningococcus): This type of bacterium causes an infection in the upper respiratory system when they enter the bloodstream. It is one of the leading causes of meningitis and mostly occurs in teenagers and young adults. It is highly contagious but vaccines are available to prevent the infection.
  2. Listeria monocytogenes (listeria): Newborns, older adults, pregnant women and people with a weak immune system are most susceptible to the effects of this type of bacteria. Infection by listeria can be fatal for the baby during late pregnancy as the bacteria can cross the placental barrier. The bacteria are commonly present in luncheon meats, unpasteurized cheese and hot dogs.
  3. Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus): The bacteria are one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in adults, infants and young children. It can result in ear and sinus infection or pneumonia. Vaccines can help to prevent this condition.
  4. Haemophilus influenzae (Haemophilus): In earlier times, Haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria were a primary cause of bacterial meningitis among children. However, with the development of new vaccines against this type of meningitis, there has been a substantial reduction in the occurrence of such cases.

Meningitis Symptoms

In adults:

  • Drowsiness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle spasm
  • Sweating
  • Pain that spreads from the spine
  • Pain in the joints
  • Fatigue
  • Stiffness in the neck and back
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Skin rash
  • Chills
  • Hands and feet turn cold
  • Rapid breathing
  • Abnormal skin color

In children:

  • Arching back
  • High-pitch moaning cry
  • Difficulty in waking up/lethargy
  • Whimpering
  • Fretfulness
  • Fever with cold hands and feet
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Vomiting
  • Refusal to eat
  • Blank staring expression

Meningitis Diagnosis

  • Lumbar puncture
  • Blood culture
  • Complete blood count
  • CT scan
  • Chest X – rays
  • Biopsy of skin rash
  • Urine test
  • MRI

Meningitis Risk Factors

The following factors can make a person more susceptible to meningitis:-

  • Age: Age is one of the factors that could put a person at the risk of meningitis. Those under the age of 20 years are prone to bacterial meningitis, while children under the age of 5 years are likely to develop viral meningitis.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women are at the risk of an infection due to listeria bacteria that can cause meningitis. Infection by these bacteria increases the chances of premature delivery, miscarriages and stillbirths.
  • Weak immune system: A vulnerable immune system could be the result of alcoholism, diabetes, intake of immunosuppressant drugs or AIDS and could lead to meningitis. Removal of the spleen could be another risk-prone condition, but there are vaccines available to prevent meningitis in case of absence of the spleen.
  • Neglecting vaccination: There are vaccines available to help in preventing the spread of certain diseases. Many of these vaccines are scheduled to be taken during childhood or at particular ages. Avoiding these vaccines at the correct time renders an individual helpless and the body cannot produce the necessary antibodies to protect itself when foreign bodies try to infect the system.
  • Living in a community: Individuals who stay in places having a communal style of living share proximity with each other and are likely to develop meningococcal meningitis. The bacteria are contagious and spread fast through the respiratory passage.


  • Learning disability
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Shock
  • Death
  • Damage to the brain
  • Hearing loss
  • Gait problems
  • Problems with memory

Meningitis Prevention

  • Maintain good hygiene: Basic practices go a long way in adopting good hygiene. Cover the mouth while coughing, sneezing or yawning and avoid sharing personal items such as towels, utensils, food, straws, toothbrushes, etc. It is also advised to avoid physical intimacy like kissing if one is suffering from meningitis as it is contagious. Also, keep hands clean at all times by washing them as any germs can spread easily through them.
  • Healthy lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes having a balanced diet, having adequate liquids and rest. Exercise is another essential part of this kind of a lifestyle. This helps to reduce chances of meningitis.
  • Taking care during pregnancy: To reduce the risk of listeriosis cook meat at 165 F and only have cheese product made of pasteurized milk.
  • Immunization: Meningitis is preventable by vaccines such as Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), Meningococcal conjugate vaccine.

Meningitis Treatment

  • Viral Meningitis: This type of meningitis improves on its own within a few weeks. Treatment of this condition includes having lots of fluids, bed rest and consumption of pain medication to relieve them from fever and body ache. Medicines are also available in case herpes virus is the cause of meningitis. Anticonvulsant medicines help with the seizures while corticosteroids help to reduce the swelling in the brain.
  • Fungal Meningitis: Anti-fungal medication helps in the treatment of fungal meningitis.
  • Bacterial Meningitis: Intravenous antibiotics and corticosteroids treat this type of meningitis as well as reduce the chances of complications like swelling of the brain and seizures. The combination of antibiotics that a doctor suggests to the patient depends on the strain of bacteria causing meningitis.

When to visit a Doctor?

Meningitis is a serious disease that requires attention. If an individual experiences the signs and symptoms of meningitis, he/she must consult a doctor at the earliest to start the treatment readily. Correct diagnosis at the right time will help to reduce the chance of further health complications. Special care should be taken in case of children as their symptoms are slightly different and challenging to identify.

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