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Meningitis: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

Sep 13, 2023

Meningitis: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord. These membranes are known as meninges.

Common signs of inflammation associated with meningitis include headache, fever, and stiff neck.

Viral infection is the leading cause of meningitis. However, it can also be brought on by fungi, bacteria, and parasites. Some meningitis cases recover well on their own in a few weeks. Others could be fatal and necessitate prompt antibiotic treatment.

Seek immediate medical attention if you or a member of your family suspects meningitis. Prompt bacterial meningitis therapy can prevent serious consequences.

Causes Of Meningitis

Meningitis most frequently results from viral infections. Bacterial infections, followed sporadically by fungal infections and parasitic illnesses, come next. It's critical to determine the etiology of bacterial infections because they can be fatal.

 Bacterial meningitis

Bacteria that enter the bloodstream, move to the brain and impact the spinal cord cause bacterial meningitis. However, bacterial meningitis can also be brought on by a direct bacterial invasion of the meninges. The causes could be an ear infection, sinus infection, a skull fracture, or very rarely specific procedures.

There are several strains that can cause bacterial meningitis, with the following being the most common:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacterium is the most frequent cause of bacterial meningitis in infants, young children, and adults in the United States. Most often, infections develop in the lungs, sinuses, or ears.A vaccination could be able to stop this infection.
  • Neisseria causes meningitis. This bacterium causes meningococcal meningitis, a type of bacterial meningitis. These bacteria frequently cause upper respiratory infections, but when they go into the bloodstream, they can also lead to meningococcal meningitis. The main demographics impacted by this illness—which is very contagious—are teenagers and young adults. It could cause small-scale outbreaks in boarding schools, military sites, and college residence halls.

The prevention of disease may be aided by vaccination. Regardless of vaccination status, everyone who has come into contact with someone who has meningococcal meningitis should take an oral antibiotic to prevent infection.

  • Haemophilus influenzae. Historically, bacterial meningitis in children was primarily brought on by the Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) bacterium. The incidence of this kind of meningitis has, however, significantly decreased because of improved Hib vaccinations.
  • Monocytogenes listeria. Unpasteurized lunch meats, hot dogs, and cheeses can all contain these bacteria. The most vulnerable group of individuals includes expectant mothers, new parents, elderly individuals, and those with compromised immune systems. Listeria can pass through the placenta when pregnant. Late in the pregnancy, infections could cause the infant's death.

Fungal meningitis

In the US, bacterial meningitis is less frequent. It might be mistaken for acute bacterial meningitis. Fungal spores that can be found in soil, rotting wood, and bird droppings are frequently the source of its transmission by inhalation.

There is no direct transmission of fungal meningitis. A prevalent fungus-related type of the illness is cryptococcal meningitis. People who suffer from diseases like AIDS or other immune system disorders are affected. Without antifungal medication, it may result in death. A relapse of fungus-related meningitis is possible despite treatment.

Meningitis caused by parasites

A rare form of meningitis called eosinophilic meningitis can be caused by parasites. Parasitic meningitis can also result from brain infections with tapeworms or cerebral malaria. Rarely, amoebic meningitis, which can sometimes be contracted while swimming in freshwater, can quickly turn fatal.

The main parasites that cause meningitis often infect mammals. These parasites usually spread to people through the food they eat. The spread of parasitic meningitis is impossible.

Additional causes of meningitis

Noninfectious conditions can also lead to meningitis. They include chemical responses, medication allergies, certain cancers, and inflammatory conditions like sarcoidosis.

Symptoms Of Meningitis

The flu-like symptoms of early meningitis could exist. It may take several hours or several days for symptoms to appear.

Any person older than 2 years old could experience one or more of the following signs:

  • sudden onset of a fever.
  • rigid neck.
  • headache.
  • vomiting or nausea.
  • confusion or difficulty focusing.
  • Seizures.
  • drowsiness or difficulty waking up.
  • light sensitivity.
  • no thirst or appetite.

Symptoms in infants

Infants and newborns may exhibit these symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Continuous sobbing.
  • Being extremely sleepy or agitated.
  • Difficulty getting out of bed.
  • Being passive or lame.
  • Not getting up to eat.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Vomiting.
  • A protrusion in the baby's head's soft area.
  • Rigidity in the neck and body.
  • Meningitis in infants makes it difficult to comfort them and infants cry harder when held in arms.

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Risk Factors Of Meningitis

Meningitis risk factors include the following:

  • Skipping vaccinations. Anyone who hasn't finished the advised childhood or adult vaccination schedule is at increased risk.
  • Age. Children under the age of five are most frequently affected with viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is common in people under the age of 20.
  • Living in a community. Meningococcal meningitis is more prevalent in boarding school and nursery school pupils, military personnel stationed on bases, and college students who reside in dorms. This is probably due to the bacterium's quick respiratory route dissemination through populated places.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnancy increases the risk of acquiring a listeria infection, which can also result in meningitis.
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, and early delivery are all at an increased risk due to the infection.
  • Weakened Immune system. Meningitis risk is increased by conditions that compromise your immune system, such as AIDS, alcoholism, diabetes, and the use of immunosuppressive medicines. The risk rises as well with spleen removal. To reduce risk, vaccination is recommended for those without spleens.

Diagnosis Of Meningitis

A medical professional can identify meningitis based on a patient's medical history, physical examination, and specific testing. During the examination, your doctor could look for infection-related symptoms near the head, ears, throat, and skin along the spine.

Typical tests used to identify meningitis include:

  • Blood Samples. To determine whether germs like bacteria can thrive in blood, a sample is put in a particular dish. An example of this is a blood culture. A sample can also be stained and placed on a slide. After that, it will be examined under a microscope to determine if there are any bacteria.
  • Imaging. Swelling or inflammation of the head may be visible on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans. Chest or sinus CT or X-rays may reveal an infection that could be linked to meningitis.
  • Spinal Tap. A spinal tap must be used to get CSF fluid in order to make a certain diagnosis of meningitis. Meningitis typically results in a person's fluid having a high white blood cell count, a high protein content, and a low sugar level.

Treatment Of Meningitis

Finding the organism that caused the meningitis may also be assisted by analyzing the fluid. You could require a DNA-based test called a polymerase chain reaction amplification if viral meningitis is suspected. Alternatively, a test to look for antibodies against specific viruses may be administered to you to identify the precise cause and proper treatment.

According to the type of meningitis you or your child suffers, different treatments are required.

A Bacterial Meningitis

Treatment for acute bacterial meningitis requires intravenous antibiotics and maybe corticosteroids straight away.

By doing so, the possibility of problems like brain swelling and seizures is decreased and the likelihood of recovery is increased.

The type of bacteria causing the infection determines which medication or drugs should be used. As long as the etiology of the meningitis is unknown with certainty, your doctor may advise you to take a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

The bones behind the outer ear that attach to the middle ear, known as mastoids, may be drained by your healthcare professional if they are infected.

Viral Meningitis

The majority of viral meningitis cases get better on their own in a few weeks without the need for antibiotics.

In mild cases of viral meningitis, the following steps are typically taken:

  • Rest in bed.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Painkillers to reduce body temperature and alleviate pain.

Your doctor might recommend corticosteroids to lessen brain swelling as well as a medication to stop seizures. If a herpes virus causes meningitis, the virus can be treated with medication.

Meningitis of different forms

If you have meningitis but don't know what caused it, you can begin antiviral and antibiotic treatment while the reason is discovered.

The underlying etiology of persistent meningitis determines the course of treatment. Fungal meningitis is treated by antifungal medications. A combination of specific drugs can be used to treat tuberculous meningitis.

Until a lab can confirm that the cause is fungus, treatment may be put off, but given the serious side effects of these drugs, it may be required.

Noninfectious meningitis caused by an autoimmune disorder or allergic reaction may be treated with corticosteroids. Therapy may not always be necessary because the illness will resolve on its own. Meningitis brought on by cancer necessitates treatment for that cancer.

Prevention Of Meningitis

Coughing, sneezing, kissing, sharing cigarettes, toothbrushes, or eating utensils are all ways that meningitis-causing germs or viruses can be transmitted. The following behaviors can help avoid meningitis:

  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands thoroughly can help stop the spread of germs. Teach children to wash their hands frequently, particularly before and after using the restroom, being around a lot of people, or petting animals. Teach children how to wash and rinse their hands properly.
  • Keep up good hygiene. Never give anyone else your toothbrush, your lip balm, your straw, or your eating utensils. Additionally, teach children and teenagers not to share these items.
  • Maintain your health. To keep your immune system strong, make sure you get enough sleep, work out frequently, and eat a balanced diet rich in fresh produce, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Cover your mouth. Covering your mouth and nose while you cough or sneeze is a good idea.
  • Watch what you eat if you're pregnant. Cooking meat, such as deli meat and hot dogs, to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) will lessen your chance of contracting listeria. Do not consume unpasteurized milk-based cheese. Pick pasteurized milk-made cheeses only if they are clearly marked as such.

Complications Of Meningitis

Complications from meningitis can be very serious. There is an increased chance of seizures and long-term brain impairment, such as:

  • Hearing loss.
  • Memory issues.
  • Learning difficulties.
  • Damage to the brain.
  • Walking difficulties.
  • Seizures.
  • Kidney malfunction.
  • Shock.
  • Death.

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