Becoming Familiar with Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges.  Research shows the most common causes of meningitis are viral infections that usually get better without treatment.  Recently, West Nile Virus, spread by mosquito bites, was the cause of a viral meningitis outbreak across most of the US.

Bacterial meningitis infections, however, are extremely serious and may result in death or brain damage, even if treated.  Acute bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment in a hospital.

Meningitis is a frequent cause of fever in children and newborns.

There are different types of meningitis including:                                                              
• Aseptic meningitis
• Cryptococcal meningitis
• Gram negative meningitis
• H. influenza meningitis
• Meningitis due to cancer (carcinomatous meningitis)
• Meningococcal meningitis
• Pneumococcal meningitis
• Staphylococcal meningitis
• Syphilitic aseptic meningitis
• Tuberculous meningitis

The most recent outbreak media is talking about is fungal meningitis resulting from injections of tainted steroid medication.  Reports of infection across the United States rose to 356; 19 of 23 states that received shipments of the steroid reported cases.

Symptoms usually come on quickly, and may include:
• Fever and chills
• Mental status changes
• Nausea and vomiting
• Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
• Severe headache
• Stiff neck (meningismus)

Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
• Agitation
• Bulging fontanelles
• Decreased consciousness
• Poor feeding or irritability in children
• Rapid breathing
• Unusual posture, with the head and neck arched backwards (opisthotonos)

One cannot tell whether they have bacterial or viral meningitis by how they feel.  If you suspect you have meningitis, you should seek prompt medical attention.