There are three types of meningitis, viral, bacterial and fungal. They can all be deadly, especially when they are left untreated or misdiagnosed.
What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is inflammation of the lining that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. The symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, fever, nausea, vomiting, seizures and altered mental status. The infection often begins with a virus or bacteria entering the bloodstream through the nose, mouth or skin. Bacteria can then travel to the meninges (the membranes around the brain) and cause an infection in these tissues. In some cases, this type of infection travels into the brain via the blood vessels, causing meningitis.
Types of Meningitis
Viral meningitis –
usually caused by a respiratory virus such as influenza A or B, RSV, parainfluenza or adenovirus. Symptoms include high fever, stiff neck, headache, photophobia, dizziness, nausea/vomiting and confusion.
Bacterial meningitis –
usually caused by streptococcus pneumoniae or Haemophilus influenzae. Symptoms include headache, stiff neck, fever, nausea/vomiting, disorientation and convulsions.
Fungal meningitis –
usually caused by Cryptococcus neoformans, Aspergillus spp. or Histoplasma capsulatum. Symptoms include headache, stiff neck, fever, nausea/vomiting, stupor, hallucinations and coma.
Who Is at Risk for Meningitis?
The CDC reports over 1 million cases of meningitis each year in the United States. People who are more likely to get meningitis include infants under one year old, people between the ages of five and 24 years old, adults 65 years old or older, and those living in long-term care facilities. It’s also common among people who smoke cigarettes. People who have damaged immune systems from HIV/AIDS, cancer treatment, chemotherapy or organ transplant are also at risk.
How Do You Get Meningitis?
People contract bacterial meningitis by inhaling bacteria (usually Streptococcus pneumoniae) which enter their nasal passages. Viral meningitis can occur by swallowing viruses (such as influenza A or B), eating food contaminated with bacteria or touching the nose, eyes, ears or mouth and then touching infected areas on the body. Fungal meningitis is acquired by ingesting fungus or inhaling spores. If you have any of the following conditions, it increases your chances of getting meningitis:
- Being a woman who has just given birth
- Having cancer or receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Having autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
- Taking immunosuppressive medications
- Living in a household where someone has tuberculosis
- Living in an area where outbreaks of infectious diseases occur
- Traveling to an area where there are outbreaks of infectious diseases
- Treating wounds or cuts in your nose, throat or ear
- Contact with animals or animal waste
- Caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias
- Being exposed to the human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Pregnant women who develop sepsis during labor and delivery
Symptoms of Meningitis
Some people will experience no symptoms at all; others may have flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms include confusion, drowsiness, seizures, hallucinations, agitation and coma. Some people may not have any symptoms at all but could still have the infection.
Diagnosis of Meningitis
If you think you have meningitis, call your healthcare provider right away. First, try keeping warm and hydrated. Next, take pain medication if needed. Then, head to the hospital or urgent care center for diagnosis. At the hospital, your doctor will perform a physical exam and order tests to confirm that you have meningitis. These tests might include:
Blood cultures –
This test looks for signs of an infection, including white blood cells (WBCs). WBCs increase as part of the body’s defense against infections.
Lumbar puncture –
This procedure involves inserting a needle into the spine to withdraw cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and send it to the lab for testing and analysis. CSF looks for signs of inflammation and infection, and can show if the infection is viral, bacterial or fungal.
CT scan of the head –
CT scans help doctors see what’s happening inside your skull.
MRI scan of the brain –
An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of soft tissue structures inside the body. MRIs are helpful in diagnosing meningitis because they allow doctors to observe changes in brain tissue.
Treatment of Meningitis
Once you have been diagnosed with meningitis, your healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics or antivirals to treat the infection. Antibiotics kill certain germs, while antivirals target specific viruses. For example, an antibiotic called ampicillin is used to treat bacterial meningitis.
Antiviral drugs are most effective against viruses that infect the central nervous system. Examples of these drugs include acyclovir and gancyclovir. However, these antiviral drugs must be taken within hours of exposure to the virus in order to be effective.
In addition, doctors may give you steroids (anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce swelling and relieve pressure on your brain, or they may remove fluids from your brain using a needle inserted in your back. Doctors may also recommend staying in bed with support devices like a pillow under your head, so that you do not roll off the bed.
If complications arise, your healthcare provider may decide to do surgery to drain pus from your brain or place a tube in your nose or throat to improve breathing.
Complications of Meningitis
While the majority of people who get meningitis recover fully, it can be fatal in rare cases. Complications may include hearing loss, vision problems, brain damage and paralysis. If you develop any of these problems, your healthcare provider may need to do additional surgery to remove pus and repair damaged tissue. If you develop permanent nerve damage, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation.
Prognosis of Meningitis
Although the prognosis depends on the severity of the illness, most people with viral or bacterial meningitis improve quickly after starting appropriate treatment. Most people with fungal meningitis die despite proper treatment. If you have viral or bacterial meningitis, you should stay home from work and school until at least 48 hours after starting treatment. After two days of treatment, your doctor may reduce the dose of antibiotics or antivirals if you are feeling better.
If your symptoms worsen or if you stop improving, contact your healthcare provider immediately. He may want to perform another lumbar puncture to collect new samples of CSF and/or repeat the blood culture. Your healthcare provider may also consider adding additional medicines to strengthen your immune system.
Prevention of Meningitis
To prevent meningitis, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, chewing tobacco and using marijuana. Also avoid intimate sexual relations with those who have active infections.
Finally, if you come in contact with a person who has meningitis, make sure to follow good hygiene practices, such as washing your hands before and after visiting the sick person, covering your mouth when coughing and avoiding direct contact with respiratory secretions. If you have questions about prevention of meningitis, talk to your healthcare provider.
There are various types of bacterial meningitis are there which can make some serious infections inside your body. We have also discussed other common types of meningitis here so if you want to know more about them then you can read from here and check out on the internet regarding meningitis. If you want to prevent this infection then you always have to wash your hands when you come home from outside.