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What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a rare condition characterized by inflammation of the meninges, which is the protective lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This is a very serious condition that can lead to permanent disability or death.

Causes of Meningitis

Meningitis may have both infectious and non-infectious causes. The different types of non-infectious causes include:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Overuse of certain medications
  • Drug allergies
  • Cancer
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Chemical reactions
  • Physical trauma
  • Brain surgery

The infectious causes for meningitis include:

  • Bacterial meningitis: This is an extremely severe condition caused due to bacteria that invades the meninges and can be life-threatening or lead to brain damage. Some of the common bacteria include:
    • Haemophilus influenzae
    • Streptococcus pneumonia
    • Listeria monocytogenes
    • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
    • E.coli
    • Syphilis
  • Viral meningitis: This condition, also known as aseptic meningitis, is a less severe condition caused by viral infections. The viruses may include:
    • Mumps virus
    • Entero virus
    • Influenza virus
    • Herpes simplex virus
    • HIV
    • Measles
    • West Nile virus
    • Varicella-zoster virus
  • Fungal meningitis: This condition is usually seen in immunocompromised patients and is caused by the inhalation of dirt contaminated with bird droppings. The different types of fungi include:
    • Candida species
    • Cryptococcus neoformans
    • Histoplasma capsulatum
    • Coccidioides
    • Blastomyces
  • Parasitic meningitis: This is a rare type of meningitis also known as eosinophilic meningitis caused due to consumption of food or water contaminated with parasites. This condition does not spread from person to person. The parasites that may cause this condition include:
    • Angiostrongyluscantonensis
    • Gnathostomaspinigerum
    • Baylisascarisprocyonis

Symptoms of Meningitis

Symptoms of meningitis may vary based on the cause of infection and may appear within a few hours or few days. Some of the common symptoms of meningitis include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Numbness in face
  • Stomach disorders
  • Arching back

Diagnosis of Meningitis

Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and based on this a physical examination will be performed looking for signs such as fever, headache, and neck stiffness. Your doctor may also recommend some screening tests that include:

  • Blood Tests: Your doctor will order blood tests to detect the presence of bacteria or increased white blood cells, indicating infection.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan: This study uses a large magnetic field and radio waves to produce images that help in detecting damage in the brain and meninges.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: This scan uses multiple x-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the head.
  • Ultrasound: This study uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the brain tissues.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test is performed by attaching electrodes to your scalp to assess the abnormal electrical activity of the brain.
  • Lumbar puncture:Also known as a spinal tap, the procedure involves aspiration of fluid from the spinal canal, which is analyzed to detect inflammation or the presence of any antibodies which might indicate infection.

Treatment for Meningitis

Treatment for meningitis may vary based on the root cause and symptoms. The various treatments include:

  • Antibiotics: Your doctor will provide intravenous antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection.
  • Corticosteroids: This includes dexamethasone that reduces the pressure in the brain and relieves inflammation.
  • Anticonvulsant: Your doctor will prescribe anticonvulsants to control seizures.
  • Antiviral and Antifungal Medications: Your doctor will prescribe antifungal and antiviral medications to treat fungal and viral infections.
  • Anti fever medications: These are given to decrease fever.
  • Supplemental Oxygen: This may be recommended in case of breathing difficulty.
  • Rest: Getting enough rest and increasing the intake of fluid will be recommended to prevent weakness and dehydration.

Prevention for Meningitis

Prevention for meningitis includes:

  • Practice proper hand hygiene
  • Get vaccinated with a pneumococcal vaccine or Hib vaccine as these vaccines provide protection against bacterial meningitis
  • Eat healthy, hygienically prepared food that boost the immune system
  • Always cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking