Healthy Living

What is Fungal Meningitis?

What is Fungal Meningitis?

Key Takeaways

  • Fungal meningitis is commonly caused by a cryptococcus spp infection.
  • Fungal meningitis is caused by contamination of blood in the spinal cord by fungus.
  • Fungal meningitis is not contagious hence cannot be transferred from one person to another.

Fungal meningitis facts

Commonly caused by a cryptococcus spp infection, fungal meningitis is a rare condition which can also be caused by other fungi.

It is important we look at some important information about fungal meningitis in order to understand it more. The following are facts about fungal meningitis:

  • This kind of meningitis is not transmittable from one individual to another. The fungi are normally spread to the central nervous system by the blood when inhaled. Fungi can also be injected directly into the CNS by medical processes or spread from an infected area to form meningitis.
  • Risk factors involve medication, surgical operations, weak immune system and living in places where fungi are highly concentrated in the air or soil.
  • To detect fungal meningitis, cerebrospinal fluid and blood are examined after cultivation.
  • Fungal Meningitis is treated with anti-fungal medication and the treatment period depends on the condition of the immune system of the patient.
  • Even though no particular conditions have been discovered to cause the development of fungal meningitis, if you have a weak immune system, it’s recommended that you stay away from regions that are highly contaminated with fungi.

Different types of fungi are transmitted in different ways

Fungi is transmitted in different ways depending on what type of fungus it is. 

  • Cryptococcus: This fungus is thought to be acquired when a person inhales a soil contaminated with bird droppings.
  • Coccidioides: This is only found in the soil of endemic areas (the southern United States and parts of Central and South America).
  • Histoplasma: This is found in areas where the land is heavily contaminated by bird droppings or bat droppings. This is especially found in the mid-west near the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
  • Blastomyces: It exists in soil that is rich in decaying organic matter.

 

Causes of fungal meningitis

A rare condition, fungal meningitis is caused by contamination of blood in the spinal cord by fungus. Even though everyone is susceptible to the disease, those who suffer from cancer and HIV are at a greater risk due to their frail immune system.

Cryptococcus is the most known cause, and it affects a good number of adults in Africa.

How is fungal meningitis transmitted?

Since it is not contagious, fungal meningitis cannot be transferred from an individual to another. It develops after the bloodstream has been invaded by fungus that spread from an infected body part. After the fungus gets into the nervous system, it gets carried into the blood. Medications that lower immune systems can also cause meningitis. Some of these medications are anti-TNF medications and steroids like prednisone.

Fungus can be transmitted in various ways depending on its type. Cryptococcus is believed to be found in soil that is highly polluted with bird droppings. Histoplasma can be acquired from areas containing high contamination of bat or bird droppings. Some of these areas include the mid-west of the United States. Blastomyces is mostly found in soil that is rich in the decayed organic matter. This type of soil also exists in the mid-west, as well as the northern part. Coccidioides is produced by soil found in endemic regions. Upon environment disturbances, people can inhale the fungus spores. Candida can be acquired in hospitals.

Risk factors for fungal meningitis

Risk factors are the factors that heighten your chances of contracting a disease. The risk factors for fungal meningitis include:

  • Some surgical operations, medications and diseases may lower one's immune system, exposing the person to the risk of developing Fungal Meningitis. Also, babies born prematurely are at a high risk of acquiring candida infection which can at the end cause fungal meningitis.
  • Residing in some regions of the US may pose a risk for fungus (lung) infection, which after that can extend to the brain.
  • Pregnant women, Filipinos and African Americans have a higher risk of developing coccidiosis infection, also referred to as valley fever.

Signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis

Fungal meningitis can manifest in the following signs and symptoms:

  • Abnormal mental status
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck

 

Diagnosis of fungal meningitis

If your doctor or a health practitioner suspects that you have meningitis, they will send you to a laboratory technician for a blood test. It’s vital to understand the real cause of your meningitis as the treatment varies according to the individual case.

Specific tests done in the lab can confirm the presence of meningitis. These are:

  1. X-ray, MRI or CT scan: These images are used to check for any signs of infection. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures appear clearer. Inform your healthcare professional if you have ever experienced any allergy towards contrast liquid.
  2. A lumbar puncture: This is a procedure used to take a sample of fluid from around one's spinal cord. The doctor will insert a needle into the spine of the patient. The fluid will be taken out through the needle. The sample is tested for the fungus that can cause Meningitis.

Treatment

One can get treatment for fungal meningitis in the hospital via an IV line. The treatment involves a high dose of anti-fungal drugs that are taken for long periods. To figure out the length of treatment, the doctor will need to know what type of fungus he or she is dealing with and the state at which the patient's immune system is. Treatment is longer for people suffering from diabetes, cancer or AIDS. 

The treatment process is a slow one. It does not kill the fungus but prevents further growth of the fungus. Once this is complete, the rest of the work has to be done by the immune system. There are two drugs used, namely, Amphotericin B and Voriconazole.

Amphotericin B comes in several forms. These forms have faced a shortage in the past.

The recovery period is quite long. The fungus destroys the tissue, and the tissue will eventually heal itself with time. But some patients may be left with certain disabilities as the tissue cannot restore itself completely.

Prevention

There are no particular activities which cause fungal meningitis. But the following are a few things you could do to avoid contracting the infection:

  • Avoid going to areas where the soil is contaminated by a fungus.
  • People who have a weak immune system, HIV or cancer should avoid getting close to bird droppings or dusty areas.
  • Discard the tissues you use after you wipe or blow your nose.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Do not share food or drinks.

How is fungal meningitis different from bacterial or viral meningitis?

Firstly, bacterial and viral meningitis are much more common than fungal meningitis. Bacterial or viral meningitis are contagious, while fungal meningitis is not.

When it comes to symptoms, bacterial or viral meningitis show their symptoms quickly and quite prominently, whereas the symptoms of fungal meningitis take time to surface.