What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord. The swelling from meningitis typically triggers symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck. Most cases of meningitis in the U.S. are caused by a viral infection, but bacterial and fungal infections are other causes. Some cases of meningitis improve without treatment in a few weeks. Others can be life-threatening and require emergent antibiotic treatment. Seek immediate medical care if you suspect that someone has meningitis. Early treatment of bacterial meningitis can prevent serious complications.
What are the Symptoms of Meningitis?
Early meningitis symptoms may mimic the flu (influenza). Symptoms may develop over several hours or over a few days. Possible signs and symptoms in anyone older than the age of 2 include:
- Sudden high fever
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache that seems different than normal
- Headache with nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking
- Sensitivity to light
- No appetite or thirst
- Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)
What Causes Meningitis?
Viral infections are the most common cause of meningitis, followed by bacterial infections and, rarely, fungal infections. Because bacterial infections can be life-threatening, identifying the cause is essential.
How to Diagnosis Meningitis?
Your family doctor or pediatrician can diagnose meningitis based on a medical history, a physical exam and certain diagnostic tests. During the exam, your doctor may check for signs of infection around the head, ears, throat and the skin along the spine.
You or your child may undergo the following diagnostic tests:
- Blood cultures. Blood samples are placed in a special dish to see if it grows microorganisms, particularly bacteria. A sample may also be placed on a slide and stained (Gram's stain), then studied under a microscope for bacteria.
- Imaging. Computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) scans of the head may show swelling or inflammation. X-rays or CT scans of the chest or sinuses may also show infection in other areas that may be associated with meningitis.
- Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). For a definitive diagnosis of meningitis, you'll need a spinal tap to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). In people with meningitis, the CSF often shows a low sugar (glucose) level along with an increased white blood cell count and increased protein.
- CSF analysis may also help your doctor identify which bacterium caused the meningitis. If your doctor suspects viral meningitis, he or she may order a DNA-based test known as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification or a test to check for antibodies against certain viruses to determine the specific cause and determine proper treatment.
Treatments For Meningitis
Your treatment is determined by the cause of your meningitis.Bacterial meningitis requires immediate hospitalization. Early diagnosis and treatment will prevent brain damage and death. Bacterial meningitis is treated with intravenous antibiotics. There’s no specific antibiotic for bacterial meningitis. It depends on the bacteria involved.Fungal meningitis is treated with antifungal agents.Viral meningitis isn’t treated. It usually resolves on its own. Symptoms should go away within two weeks. There are no serious long-term problems associated with viral meningitis.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially if you’re at increased risk, is important. This includes things like:getting adequate amounts of rest, not smoking, avoiding contact with sick people. Follow these steps and stay healthy!