Meningitis

1 What is Meningitis?

An inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that surrounds your brain and spinal cord is called meningitis.

Fever, headache, and stiff neck are the most common trigger symptoms of meningitis.

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In the United States, most cases of meningitis are caused by a viral infection, fungal infections, bacterial infections and other causes.

Meningitis

There are some cases of meningitis that will improve without any treatment within a few weeks but some cases are life-threatening and require antibiotic treatment.

You can prevent complications if you treat bacterial meningitis as soon as you suspect that you have one.

2 Symptoms

Symptoms of meningitis are like that of influenza or flu and it can develop in a few hours or few days.

The symptoms of meningitis for anyone older than 2 years of age include sudden high fever, severe headaches that are not normal, stiff neck, seizures, difficulty concentrating, difficulty walking, sleepiness, confusion, sensitivity to light, not thirsty, no appetite, and skin rash (meningococcal meningitis).

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The symptoms for newborn or infants under the age of two include high fever, irritability, constant crying, excessive sleepiness, inactive, a bulge in the soft spot on top of the infant’s head, poor feeding, stiffness in the neck and body.

Some of the infants who have meningitis can be difficult to comfort and they may even cry harder if held.

Consult your doctor if you or another member of your family has symptoms such as fever, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, and vomiting.

You need medication because this disease can be fatal, it can cause brain damage or even death.

If you are not the one with the infection, you may still need medication in order for you not to be infected.

3 Causes

The most common cause of meningitis is a viral infection, then bacterial infection and fungal infection.

Bacterial infection can be fatal so it is important to know the cause of this.

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For bacterial meningitis: this is where the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and will go through your spinal cord and brain or if invades the membranes.

The causes of this are skull fracture after surgeries or ear and sinus infection.

Some can cause bacterial meningitis most commonly: Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus) – the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States that affect infants, children, and adults.

It can cause pneumonia and sinus or ear infection and can be prevented by a vaccine; Neisseria meningitides (meningococcus) – this bacterium can cause meningococcal meningitis if it enters the bloodstream and upper respiratory infection that affects teenagers and adults.

This is highly contagious and may cause local epidemics in school and workplace and this can be prevented by a vaccine; Haemophilus influenza (haemophilus) type b (Hib) – can affect most children but new Hib vaccines are used nowadays and as a result reduces the number of cases; Listeria monocytogenes (listeria) – this can be found in hotdogs, luncheon meats, and unpasteurized cheese.

You can get this if you have a weakened immune system and may be fatal to the unborn baby. Viral meningitis: this type of meningitis is mild and often clears on its own.

A group of viruses called enteroviruses is common in the United States that are common in late summer and early fall. Other causes of viral meningitis are HIV, West Nile virus, herpes simplex virus, and mumps.

For chronic meningitis: this type may develop within two weeks or even more and the causes of this are the fluid that surrounds your brain and slows growing organisms like Mycobacterium tuberculosis and fungi.

Fever, headache, mental cloudiness and vomiting are the symptoms of chronic meningitis. For fungal meningitis: this is uncommon and mostly causes chronic meningitis.

This type of meningitis is not contagious and the common fungal form is Cryptococcal meningitis that can affect people with immune deficiencies like that of AIDS and if not treated with an antifungal drug, can be fatal.

Drug allergies, chemical reactions, and sarcoidosis can also result in meningitis.

4 Making a Diagnosis

If you are suspecting that you have meningitis consult your doctor right away to receive a diagnosis. Meningitis can be fatal depending on the severity or cause of the disease.

Before your appointment, ask your doctor if you need anything in advance. Bring a notebook so you can write down the symptoms that you are having or if you have cold or flu-like symptoms.

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You can also write down your recent travel or any interactions with animals and vaccination history. Bring a family member or friend to help and support you.

Some of the questions you can ask your doctor include:

  • What’s likely causing my symptoms?
  • Is this fatal?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What treatments do I need?
  • Is this for a lifetime?
  • Am I contagious?
  • Do I have to be isolated?
  • Does my family need any preventive medication?
  • What can I do if this is not treated with antibiotics?
  • What websites do you recommend?

Your doctor will also as you some questions such as:

  • When did you experience the symptoms?
  • How severe are they?
  • What makes them worse?
  • Have you been exposed to anyone with meningitis?
  • What is your vaccination history?
  • Are you taking any immunosuppressant medications?
  • Do you have any other medical condition?

Your doctor will conduct a physical examination then followed by diagnostic tests such as blood cultures, your doctor will get a blood sample and placed it in a dish to look for microorganisms or bacteria, or he will put Gram’s stain and study it under a microscope; imaging tests, CT scan and MR scans to see if your head has inflammation or if it is swelling, X-ray will also show if there is an infection; spinal tap or lumbar puncture, this is done to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to check for increased white blood cell count and protein, and if you have a low sugar (glucose) level.

It can also help in finding out what kind of bacterium caused your meningitis.

Your doctor may do DNA-based known test (polymerase chain reaction) amplification if he suspects that you have viral meningitis.

5 Treatment

The treatment for meningitis will be based upon what type of meningitis you have.

If it is bacterial meningitis, it can be treated by intravenous antibiotics and corticosteroids that help in reducing the risk of complications like seizures and brain swelling and to ensure recovery.

Until your doctor determines what the cause of meningitis is, he may recommend a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

He may also drain any infected mastoids (bones behind the outer ear that is connected to the middle ear) or sinuses.

If it is viral meningitis, antibiotics will not work and will eventually improve after several weeks.

Bed rest and plenty of fluids and over the counter medications to relieve body aches and reduce fever are the treatments for this disease.

Your doctor may also recommend anticonvulsant to control seizures and corticosteroids to reduce swelling, and antiviral medicine if a herpes virus caused your meningitis.

If it is chronic meningitis, it will be treated based on its underlying cause. If it is fungal meningitis, antifungal medications is the treatment.

If it is tuberculous meningitis, your doctor will recommend a combination of specific antibiotics.

Corticosteroids will be recommended if it is noninfectious meningitis due to autoimmune disease or allergic reaction. Cancer-related meningitis may need therapy.

6 Prevention

Some preventive measures for meningitis include:

  • By washing your hands to prevent germs especially after using a toilet or before eating or when in public places.
  • Cover your mouth and nose if you are going to sneeze or cough.
  • Practice good hygiene by not sharing eating utensils, lip balms and drinks.
  • Stay healthy and maintain your immune system by eating nutritious foods and getting enough rest.
  • For pregnant women, cook meat to 165 F (74 C) to reduce your risk of listeriosis.
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The bacteria or virus that can cause meningitis can spread through kissing, sneezing, coughing and sharing things like a toothbrush.

You can also prevent meningitis with vaccinations such as Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) – a regular immunization for children that are under the age of 2, and with additional doses between the ages of 2 and 5 who are at high risk of pneumococcal disease.

Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) vaccine – this is also part of a regular immunization starting at 2 months old and in adults who have AIDS or sickle cell disease or who doesn’t have a disease.

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) – this vaccine is to be used by adults older than 65, younger adults and kids ages 2 and up, recommended by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine – a single dose to be given to children ages 11 to 12 with a booster shot given at age 16 is recommended by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The booster shot is recommended between the ages 16 and 18 if the vaccine is first given between the ages of 13 and 15, but if the first shot is given at age 16 no booster is necessary.

Younger kids who have been exposed to someone with this disease and at high risk of bacterial meningitis, a vaccine can also be given even as young as 9 months old.

The vaccine is also used to unvaccinated but healthy people.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Belladonna (Bell) can be used as a homeopathic remedy for meningitis.

This medicine along with other medicines should not be taken without advice from doctors.

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8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with meningitis.

Rest as much as possible, drink plenty of fluids, have a healthy and balanced diet, and take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce body aches and fever.

Do not go to school or work for a while until your doctor tells you to.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with meningitis.

You are at risk with meningitis if:

  • You are skipping your vaccinations from childhood up to adulthood.
  • Your age, most common in kids younger than 5 and under the age of 20 for bacterial meningitis.
  • Students who are living in dormitories, boarding schools or even military bases and child care facilities are at risk of meningococcal meningitis because the bacteria spreads through large groups quickly.
  • If you have AIDS, diabetes or alcoholic or if you have your spleen removed you are at risk.
  • Pregnant women are at risk of listeriosis and may even cause stillbirth, premature delivery and miscarriage

Complications may arise and it includes:

  • Memory difficult.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Brain damage.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Seizures.
  • Gait.
  • Shock.
  • Kidney failure and even death. 

Treatment is relevant to have a full recovery of meningitis.

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