Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges. Meninges is the membrane which covers the spinal cord and brain. When fluid which surrounds the meninges becomes infected, meningitis can occur.
Bacterial and viral infections are the most common causes of meningitis. Meningitis can be transmitted by close contact, sneezing, coughing since it’s contagious. Other causes of meningitis are drug allergies, fungi, chemical irritation, and cancer. Since bacterial meningitis can be fatal for the patient it is a medical emergency.
Viral infection is often a cause of meningitis. However, a bacterial infection can also be the cause. Although it is less common, a fungal infection can cause meningitis, too. Identifying the exact cause of the infection is an important part of the development of a treatment, since bacterial infections are serious and life-threatening.
Bacterial meningitis often occurs when bacteria enter your bloodstream and go to the spinal cord and brain. However, this condition can also occur if bacteria directly invade the meninges, as a result of a skull fracture, an sinus or ear infection, or after some surgeries. There are many strains of bacteria which can cause acute bacterial meningitis, and the most common are neisseria meningitides, listeria monocytogenes, haemophilus influenza and streptococcus pneumonia.
Viruses are often more common cause of meningitis than bacteria. Viral meningitis is often mild and disapears on its own. A lot of viral meningitis cases are caused by a group of viruses known as enteroviruses. Enteroviruses usually circulate in early fall or late summer. West Nile virus, mumps, HIV, herpes simplex virus and others are also potential cause of viral meningitis.
When slow-growing organisms invade the fluid and membranes surrounding your brain a chronic form of meningitis occurs. Unlike acute meningitis, which strikes suddenly, chronic meningitis develops over 14 days or more. Symptoms of chronic meningitis are similar to those of acute meningitis, and may include fever, mental cloudiness, vomiting, and headaches.
Fungal meningitis is often uncommon and causes chronic meningitis. Sometimes, fungal meningitis can mimic acute bacterial meningitis. But, this form of meningitis cannot be spread from one person to the other one. A typical fungal form, cryptococcal meningitis, is the disease which affects people who have immune deficiencies. If fungal meningitis is not treated with an antifungal medication it can cause death.
Other meningitis causes
Drug allergies, inflammatory diseases, chemical reactions and some types of cancer can also be a cause of meningitis.
Symptoms of meningitis can vary by age. Young adults and teens can have seizures, drowsiness, stiff neck, fever and headaches. Older adults can have fever and a slight headache. Young children can have trouble breathing and cough. Infants can have bulging fontanelles, cry when being held, refuse to eat and be irritable. Meningitis may cause a change in sensitivity to light as well as mental status.
The type of meningitis your child or you have determines the treatment of meningitis. Bacterial meningitis requires treatment with cortisone medications and intravenous antibiotics in order to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications, such as seizures and brain swelling. The type of bacteria which causes the infection determines the antibiotic or combination of antibiotics, which will be prescribed by your doctor.
Most cases of viral meningitis improve on their own in a few weeks. Antibiotics cannot cure it. Mild cases of viral meningitis can be treated with plenty of fluids, bed rest, and over-the-counter pain medications in order to relieve body aches and reduce fever. In case your doctor doesn’t know the exact cause of your meningitis, he or she can start antiviral and antibiotic treatment until the cause of meningitis is determined.
Antifungal medications are used in the treatment of fungal meningitis. But, these medications can have very serious side effects. Therefore, until a laboratory can confirm that the cause is fungal, the treatment may be deferred. The treatment of chronic meningitis is based on the underlying cause, that is usually fungal.
People who are in contact with patients with meningococcal infection are given preventive antibiotics. A good protection against some types of meningitis is vaccination. Vaccines can include meningococcal vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and HiB vaccine.