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Meningitis: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Meningitis: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Neuro Sciences | by Dr. Kallol Kr. Dey | Published on 18/01/2024



Introduction

Have you been experiencing severe headaches or constant fever? If yes, book your appointment with one of the best hospitals in Kolkata, The Calcutta Medical Research Institute as it signals meningitis. With proper diagnosis and the right treatment, you can fight against the disease. Meningitis is a hazardous but comparatively uncommon condition.  Even though it is rare, its occurrence is notable enough. This condition is not always common in a given area; cases are every so often reported worldwide. Both viral and bacterial infections are usual offenders, and some groups are more susceptible than others, including young children, college students, and people with weakened immune systems. Some forms of bacterial meningitis are now much less common due to vaccination campaigns. It is important to understand and treat it promptly because if left untreated, meningitis can cause serious complications. The management of this potentially fatal condition still depends on prevention and awareness. 

In this blog, you will find a comprehensive discussion on meningitis, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. However, kindly note that this is for informative purposes only and we do not in any way encourage overlooking the doctor’s consultation.

What is Meningitis?

An inflammation of the membranes skirting around the brain and spinal cord is referred to as meningitis. It is often caused by bacterial or viral infections, and it leads to serious health problems. Because it is more serious, bacterial meningitis requires treatment right away. In general, viral forms are milder, and most patients recover completely. Meningitis affects people of all age groups and is not a very common condition, but it can occur occasionally. Immunization is important for prevention, specifically against certain bacterial strains. Early diagnosis and treatment play an important role in reducing the probable hazards connected to this illness.

What are the types of Meningitis?

Here are the types of meningitis: 

Viral Meningitis

  • Causative agents: Enteroviruses, such as Coxsackievirus and Echovirus, and Herpesviruses, like Herpes Simplex Virus and Varicella-Zoster Virus
  • Severity: In general, it is not as severe as bacterial meningitis.
  • Transmission: By close personal contact, fecal-oral contact, or respiratory secretions
  • Prognosis: Usually better, with full recovery expected for the majority of patients

Bacterial Meningitis

  • Causative agents: Common bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis include Listeria monocytogenes, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Streptococcus pneumoniae (Pneumococcus), and Neisseria meningitides (Meningococcus)
  • Severity: May be fatal and necessitates immediate medical assistance
  • Transmission: Bacteria enter the blood and travel to the spinal cord or brain
  • Prevention: One of the most important ways to avoid certain bacterial strains is through vaccination.

Fungal Meningitis

  • Common Fungi: Cryptococcus neoformans, Candida species.
  • Risk factors: Frequently impacts people with weakened immune systems.
  • Transmission: Fungal spore inhalation or spread from other infections are the two transmission methods.

Aseptic Meningitis

  • Non-Infectious Causes: Some drugs, autoimmune diseases, or underlying medical conditions
  • Symptoms: Similar symptoms to infectious meningitis, but caused by non-infectious causes
  • Treatment: Targets the underlying cause; antifungal or antiviral drugs may be required.

Chronic Meningitis

  • Prolonged Inflammation: Chronic Meningitis duration is weeks to months.
  • Causes: Mycobacterium tuberculosis, certain fungi, or underlying chronic conditions.
  • Symptoms involve headaches that don't go away over time and neurological symptoms.

What are Meningitis symptoms?

Meningitis symptoms appear similar to the flu and develop after some hours or days. Symptoms for infant and adult both are:

  • Serious headache 
  • Constant fever 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion 
  • Trouble walking 
  • Sleepiness 
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin rashes in some cases

What are Meningitis causes?

Here are some of the identified meningitis causes:

  • Viral Infections: Enteroviruses (Coxsackievirus, Echovirus) and Herpesviruses (e.gHerpes Simplex Virus, Varicella-Zoster Virus) are usually the main culprits. Close physical contact, fecal-oral contact, and respiratory secretions lead to the spreading of the disease. 
  • Bacterial Infections: Neisseria meningitidis (Meningococcus), Streptococcus pneumoniae (Pneumococcus), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Group B Streptococcus, and Listeria monocytogenes are important bacterial culprits. Inflammation occurs due to bacteria that enter the bloodstream and go to the brain or spinal cord.
  • Fungal Infections: Candida species and Cryptococcus neoformans are linked to fungal meningitis. People with weak immune systems are more vulnerable to experiencing fungal infections.
  • Aseptic Meningitis: Certain drugs, autoimmune diseases, or underlying medical conditions are examples of non-infectious causes. However, the etiology is non-infectious and needs specialized care, the symptoms look alike to those who have meningitis.
  • Chronic meningitis: Prolonged inflammation can be caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, certain fungi, or underlying chronic diseases in cases of chronic meningitis. The condition is categorized by a progressive onset, ongoing headaches, and neurological symptoms.

How is Meningitis diagnosed?

A healthcare expert diagnoses the condition meningitis depending on the patient’s medical history, physical assessment, and symptoms. While the assessment is ongoing, the doctor looks for infection signs across the patient’s head, ears, throat, and skin along the spine. Here are some of the commonly recommended tests to diagnose meningitis:

  • Blood culture- To confirm meningitis, a blood sample is put in a dish to assess if it develops microorganisms like bacteria. Another sample is arranged on the slide and stained. Further, the sample is studied under a microscope to look for the bacteria and see if they exist. 
  • Imaging tests involve MRI scans or CT scans of the head. It helps in detecting inflammation or signs like swelling. With these tests, the doctor can ensure if the chest or sinuses are showing signs of infection linked to meningitis. 
  • Spinal tap- This test is needed to gather a cerebrospinal fluid for a definitive diagnosis. People who have meningitis usually experience low levels of sugar including white blood cell count and protein increase.

What are the options available for Meningitis treatment?

The options for meningitis treatment are available depending on its cause or type. Here is how the condition is treated by determining its types:

  • Bacterial meningitis: This type needs immediate hospitalization and initial diagnosis with the right treatment options to help avert the risk of death or brain damage. In this type, doctors usually involve the use of steroids and intravenous antibiotics. However, it is important to note that no particular antibiotic is available for bacterial meningitis, it depends on the involved bacteria.
  • Fungal meningitis: The treatment option recommended to treat this type is antifungal agents. 
  • Parasitic meningitis: This type involves the treatment of the symptoms or treating the infection directly. Sometimes, this type resolves without the use of antibiotic treatment. 
  • Viral meningitis: This type usually resolves on its own, but some causes require treatment with intravenous antiviral medications. 
  • Chronic meningitis: To treat this condition, the doctor first tries treating the underlying cause like a fungal infection or an autoimmune disease.

Conclusion

In summary, meningitis is a life-threatening condition that is fatal and requires immediate attention and knowledge. The protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord are compromised by this bacterial or viral infection, requiring prompt medical attention to avoid serious consequences and enhance the prognosis. Coming to the end of this discussion, it is vital to support more studies, more public awareness, and cooperation to deepen our knowledge of meningitis and grow improved preventative and therapeutic methods.

FAQ -

 

Is meningitis contagious?

Yes, people who have the type of viral meningitis spread the infection to other people.

How does meningitis spread?

This condition spreads through respiratory or throat secretions droplets. 

Is meningitis curable?

Yes, the condition is curable but it is treated by managing the symptoms and depending on its type through antibiotics, antifungal agents, etc.