What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious infection that causes the fluid and the membranes (known as the meninges) that are responsible for protecting the brain spinal cord to become inflamed.

Bacterial Meningitis
Bacterial Meningitis

There are two main types of meningitis: Viral and bacterial. Viral meningitis most common in the summer and autumn months, is the most common form and is the cause of almost 90 percent of meningitis cases. It typically goes away on its own without any treatment required. Bacterial meningitis, however, is the much more serious of the two, and if left untreated can be fatal. There are also rare types of meningitis, including fungal meningitis, which affects individuals who have weak immune systems, as well as parasitic meningitis, which is caused by lakes and rivers that are contaminated. Just like bacterial meningitis, these rare forms can also be fatal, which is why it’s crucial to seek immediate treatment upon the first sign of symptoms.

Meningitis Symptoms - Stiff Neck
A stiff neck is a common symptom of meningitis.

Symptoms of viral and bacterial meningitis can be very similar in nature, although the symptoms of bacterial meningitis tend to be much more severe. Symptoms can come on suddenly and last as long as 3 weeks. They include headache, stiff neck, fever, irritability, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, and a decreased appetite. Dr. Ali Ghahary again urges the importance of seeking treatment right away if you develop any of these symptoms – even if you do not think that you have meningitis – as it can mean life or death. As meningitis cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms alone, a test called a lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) will need to be administered in order to make a definitive diagnosis. A lumbar puncture collects cerebrospinal fluid and checks for any increased pressure of the central nervous system as well as measures the levels of glucose, protein, as well as the white blood cell count. If glucose levels are low, and the white blood cell count and protein levels are high, then this is confirmation of meningitis.

While you’re not likely to catch meningitis simply from walking by/near someone already infected, the risk of transmission and catching meningitis increases if you have prolonged contact with an individual who is already infected. Bacteria from meningitis can be spread through saliva (i.e. coughing, kissing, sharing eating utensils and/or drinking glasses), mucus, sneezing, and even contaminated food.

In order to prevent serious complications of bacterial meningitis, such as brain damage or death, the patient will need to be hospitalized and administered IV antibiotics.

To avoid getting meningitis, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends patients maintain a healthy lifestyle, get enough rest, and avoid contact with those who are sick. There are also certain vaccinations that may be able to fight against some forms of meningitis, and that may be worth a discussion with your primary care physician.

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