What is meningitis?
Meningitis is a disease caused by an inflammation of the meninges. These are the membranes
that surround the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation is usually caused by infection
of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
What causes meningitis?
There are several types of
meningitis with different causes:
Viral (caused by a virus)
- Viral meningitis is
more common than bacterial meningitis. Meningitis from most viruses is
rarely life threatening. But some can cause long-standing nervous
system complications or death. Viral meningitis can be caused by
different viruses. It is spread between people by coughing or
sneezing, or through poor hygiene. Rarely, insects such as mosquitoes
and ticks may spread these viruses.
- In a few cases, viral
meningitis can be helped by special antiviral medicines that target
specific viruses. Most people have a full recovery. But headaches,
fatigue, and depression may continue.
Bacterial (caused by a
- Bacterial meningitis,
although rare, may be fatal.
- Bacteria may be spread
through respiratory and throat fluids. This can be through coughing
- Many species of
bacteria can cause meningitis. Below are 4 types:
meningitis (meningococcus). This is a common cause of bacterial
meningitis in children 2 to 18 years of age. It is spread by
respiratory droplets and close contact. Meningococcal meningitis
occurs most often in the first year of life. But it may also
occur in people who lived in close quarters, such as a college
pneumoniae (pneumococcus). This is the most common and most
serious form of bacterial meningitis. People with weak immune
systems are most at risk.
influenzae type b. The hibvaccine has greatly decreased the
number of cases in the U.S. Children who don't have access to
the vaccine and those in daycare centers are at higher risk of
getting this illness.
monocytogenes. This has become a more frequent cause of
meningitis in newborns, pregnant women, people older than age
60, and in people of all ages who have a weak immune
|Fungal meningitis (caused by a fungus)
- Fungal meningitis is very uncommon. It can happen
in people with a weak immune system. This might be from AIDS or
- Fungal infections can rarely be caused by medical
procedures. This can happen if there is contamination.
|Aseptic meningitis (meningitis without an
- Aseptic meningitis can occur when there is
inflammation of the meninges froma immune response.
- Autoimmune disorders and certain medicines can
cause inflammation without an infection.
- Sometimes meningitis can be caused by cancer
cells in the spinal fluid.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
These are the most common symptoms of meningitis:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stiff neck
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Joint aches or pains
Symptoms for children may include:
- High-pitched cry
- Pale, blotchy skin color
- Not wanting to eat
- Fretful and fussy
- Arching back
- Difficult to wake
These symptoms may not occur all at
once. And not everyone who gets meningitis will have all of these symptoms. The symptoms
of meningitis may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare
provider for a diagnosis.
How is meningitis diagnosed?
Along with a health history and
physical exam, your healthcare provider may do one or more of the following tests:
- Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). The
healthcare provider puts a needle into the lower back and into the spinal canal.
This is the area around the spinal cord. He or she measures the pressure in the
spinal canal and brain. The provider may remove a small amount of cerebral spinal
fluid (CSF) to test it for infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes
the brain and spinal cord.
- Blood testing. Blood is collected and tested for infection.
- CT scan. This procedure uses X-rays
and a computer to make images of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any
part of the body. This includes the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are
more detailed than general X-rays.
How is meningitis treated?
Treatment may include:
- Bacterial meningitis. IV
(iIntravenous) antibiotics are used to treat bacterial meningitis. The earlier
the treatment is started, the better the outcome. Steroids can help in treating
bacterial meningitis in babies and children. But this treatment is used less often
adults. Dexamethasone is a type of steroid. It may be given in certain cases of
bacterial meningitis. It lowers the inflammatory response caused by the
- Viral meningitis. Treatment for viral
meningitis is usually aimed at easing symptoms. Except for the herpes simplex virus,
there are no specific medicines to treat the viruses that cause meningitis. Sometimes
antiviral medicines are used to treat some other specific types of viruses.
While you are recovering from
meningitis, your healthcare provider may advise other treatments to help you get better
faster and ease symptoms. These may include:
- Bed rest in a dimly lit room
- Medicines to reduce fever and
headache. Don't take aspirin.
You may need extra oxygen or a
breathing machine (ventilator) if you become very ill and have trouble breathing.
Can meningitis be prevented?
Several vaccines can prevent types
of bacterial meningitis. These vaccines are recommended for babies and children. Two
doses at ages 11 through 18 are also recommended.
In certain cases, your healthcare
provider may advise one of the meningitis vaccines. You may need a meningitis vaccine
- Chronic lung conditions, such as
emphysema or COPD
- Heart disease
- Chronic kidney failure
- Decreased immunity status
- Certain blood disorders
- Damaged or removed spleen
You may also need one if you travel
to countries where meningitis is widespread. If you have questions about prevention,
see your healthcare provider.
Key points about meningitis
- Meningitis is a disease caused by an
inflammation of the meninges. These are the membranes that surround the brain and
- It's usually caused by a virus. But it
can be caused by bacteria and fungi.
- Sometimes meningitis can be from noninfectious causes, such as
autoimmune disorders or medicines.
- Treatment for meningitis depends on
the cause of the disease.
- Vaccines can prevent or lower your
chance of getting meningitis.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.