Causes and Symptoms of Meningitis; and When to See a Doctor

What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a relatively rare infection that affects the delicate membranes — called meninges (men-in’-jeez) — that cover the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis can be deadly and contagious among people in close contact. Viral meningitis tends to be less severe and most people recover completely without specific therapy. Fungal meningitis is a rare form of meningitis and generally occurs only in people with weakened immune systems.

What Causes Meningitis?

Meningitis is almost always caused by a bacterial or viral infection that began elsewhere in the body, such as in the ears, sinuses, or upper respiratory tract. Less common causes of meningitis include fungal infection, syphilis, tuberculosis, autoimmune disorders, and medications.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis is more common than the bacterial form and generally but not always  less serious. It can be triggered by a number of viruses, including several that can cause diarrhea. People with viral meningitis are more likely to recover without specific treatment.

Who Is Most at Risk for Meningitis?

Anyone can develop just about any kind of meningitis. But research has shown that some age groups have higher rates of meningitis than others. They are:

Children under age 5

Teenagers and young adults age 16-25

Adults over age 55

Studies have shown that meningitis is more of a danger for people with certain medical conditions, such as a damaged or absent spleen, chronic disease, or immune system disorders. Because certain germs that cause meningitis can be contagious, outbreaks are most likely to occur in places where people are living in close quarters. So college students in dorms or army recruits in barracks are at higher risk of meningitis due to close contacts.

Symptoms

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

Seizures

Sleepiness or difficulty waking

Sensitivity to light

No appetite or thirst

Skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis)

Signs in newborns and infants

High fever

Constant crying

Excessive sleepiness or irritability

Inactivity or sluggishness

Poor feeding

A bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanel)

Stiffness in a baby’s body and neck

Infants with meningitis may be difficult to comfort, and may even cry harder when held.

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate medical care if you or someone in your family has meningitis symptoms, such as:

Fever

Severe, unrelenting headache

Confusion

Vomiting

Stiff neck

Bacterial meningitis is serious, and can be fatal within days without prompt antibiotic treatment. Delayed treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.

It’s also important to talk to your doctor if a family member or someone you work with has meningitis. You may need to take medications to prevent getting the infection.

 

By: Umaru Maryam Hadejia

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