Meningitis: Causes, Symptoms, Transmission, And Treatment

Numerous diseases that affect the human body can leave behind permanent damage that may be irreversible and causes the patient to suffer long-term complications. Some of these diseases are more serious than others, especially those may also cause a patient to experience complications that may put their lives on the line.

Meningitis is a disease that affects a patient’s brain and their spinal cord. Inflammation is the primary concern regarding this disease, which can cause damage to the surrounding areas.

Here, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the disease, including the symptoms that patients should consider a sign that they may be developing meningitis. We will also consider the different types of meningitis, take a look at how the disease is diagnosed and talk about the different treatments that have been developed to assist with improving the chances of survival among affected patients.

What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an illness that affects both the spinal cord and the brain. The illness primarily causes the membranes that protect these parts of a patient’s body to become inflamed. The parts of the body that develop inflammation are also referred to as the meninges. The illness can either be infectious or non-infectious, depending on what causes the patient to develop meningitis.

The first epidemiological report regarding this disease dates back to 1661, which was written by Thomas Willis. The disease was considered a serious threat to the general population at the time. Even though several advancements have been made in modern times regarding the prevention and treatment of the disease, a recent publication reported that as much as 8.7 million patients are still diagnosed with meningitis annually. A relatively large number of deaths are also caused by the disease on a yearly basis. In 2015 alone, approximately 379,000 patients died from the disease.

What Are The Causes Of Meningitis?

There are a relatively large number of causes associated with meningitis, making it crucial for the general population to be wary of the symptoms that have been associated with the disease. In most cases where a patient is diagnosed with meningitis, the cause behind the disease is tracked down to the presence of a bacterial infection. Other microorganisms can also cause a patient to develop this disease, including viruses, parasites, and fungi.

In addition to microorganisms being a potential cause of meningitis, patients should also be aware that other particular factors can also contribute to the condition. These may include:

  • The body’s reaction to the use of some pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Certain types of rheumatologic disease, with the most common being lupus.
  • A complication of certain cancers.

Patients who suffer a severe injury to their spine or head are also at risk of developing meningitis.

What Are The Different Types Of Meningitis?

Several forms of meningitis have been identified through scientific advancements. Knowledge of these, including the particular factors that may cause each form of the disease, is an important part of better understanding the illness. Below, we will take a look at various types of meningitis, and point out which are more common than others.

Bacterial Meningitis

This is a relatively common type of the disease and is caused by a bacterial infection in the patient’s body. Bacterial meningitis is a serious disease and can cause the patient to die within just a couple of hours when the patient is not treated quickly. Even though the majority of patients do recover from the disease, a number of these patients may experience permanent damage that may cause them to suffer from disabilities. Such complications may include hearing loss, learning disabilities, and brain damage.

Various bacterium species have been linked to bacterial meningitis, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, Listeria monocytogenes, Neisseria meningitides, Group B Streptococcus bacterium strains, and Haemophilus influenzae.

In most patients, bacterial meningitis is a complication that occurs following an initial bacterial infection in their upper respiratory system. The bacteria would enter the patient’s bloodstream and travel to their brain. There are, however, cases where the disease develops due to direct infiltration of the bacterial microorganisms.

Viral Meningitis

The most common type of this disease is viral meningitis. While this is less serious meningitis as compared to the bacterial type, it can still cause harmful complications. Different types of viruses can cause viral meningitis, including:

  • Mumps virus
  • Influenza virus
  • West Nile virus
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Measles virus
  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus

Patients who develop this viral infection often recover without any intense treatment. Individuals with a compromised immune system are at risk of developing serious complications.

Other Forms Of Meningitis

Apart from bacterial and viral meningitis, being two of the more common types, other forms of the disease also exist. These include:

  • Parasitic meningitis
  • Amebic meningitis
  • Fungi meningitis
  • Non-infectious meningitis


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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Meningitis?

It is important for the general population to be able to recognize the signs of meningitis early on since earlier treatment can help to avoid fatal complications from occurring. The disease can cause a number of symptoms in an affected patient. Most forms of meningitis tend to produce similar symptoms. It is important to note that patients may not experience all symptoms when they have meningitis.

Symptoms associated with this disease include:

  • A Fever
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Most people who develop the disease will also experience a stiff neck and severe headaches. Some patients may also find that their eyes become sensitive to bright lights.

It is important to note that the symptoms exhibited by babies who develop meningitis may be different from that experienced by adults. Babies may develop a fever and start to vomit. Other symptoms may include irritability, as well as difficulty feeding the baby and finding it harder to wake them up.

 

How do I know if I am at a high risk for Meningitis?

Meningitis affects groups of all ages. Anyone who lives or works with the local population of a country or in a region at risk may become infected. Some groups of people are more at risk of contamination, such as the population and hosts in sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. The disease is most evident during the dry season, between December and June. If you live in overcrowded areas or participate in large gatherings you will be more at risk to be affected by this disease. This is the case of many pilgrims going to Mecca in Saudi Arabia each year.

Is Meningitis Contagious?

Certain types of meningitis are contagious and can spread from one person to another. This is why it is vital for patients diagnosed with bacterial and viral meningitis to be isolated from individuals who have not been infected. All people who are around the infected patient should take appropriate precautionary measures to avoid catching the disease.

The bacteria and viruses that cause the disease can be transmitted from an infected person through their saliva. While the disease is contagious, it has been noted that it is not as easily transmitted as other types of infections caused by viruses and bacteria, such as the flu.


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Can Meningitis Cause Death?

An important fact that all patients should realize about meningitis is that the disease can cause a patient to die, especially if the condition is not treated quickly and with the appropriate type of medication. Not all patients will be at risk of dying from the disease, as most patients do tend to recover from the disease. There are, however, some who are at a higher risk of dying from the disease. In particular, babies, the elderly, and people who have a weakened immune system are more likely to experience the life-threatening complications associated with the disease.

How Is Meningitis Diagnosed?

Since different factors can cause meningitis, an accurate diagnosis of the disease is crucial before a patient can be treated effectively. Different types of these diseases require specialized treatment protocols. For example, while antibiotics are effective in treating bacterial meningitis, the use of antibiotics will not help to treat viral meningitis.

A physician first needs to examine a patient and ask them about the particular symptoms they are experiencing. When meningitis is suspected, additional tests will be requested to determine if the patient has this disease and, if so, which type of the disease the patient has. A lumbar puncture is the most commonly used test to help identify the presence of meningitis. Blood tests may also be used for further investigation.

What Are The Treatment Options For Meningitis?

Treatment for meningitis will depend on the specific type of the disease that a patient has developed. Patients with viral meningitis usually get better without any pharmaceutical treatment specifically focuses on the infection. Medication to help ease the symptoms that the patient experiences, such as fever and pain, can be useful.

Prompt delivery of treatment in patients with bacterial meningitis is crucial. A variety of antibiotics have been suggested to be administered to a patient with bacterial meningitis. Identifying the type of bacterium that has caused the infection will help the physician determine the best antibiotic to be used as a treatment protocol. In serious cases, antibiotics may be delivered intravenously.

Conclusion

Meningitis is a serious medical condition that affects the brain, as well as the spinal cord. The disease leads to inflammation and can result in serious brain-related damage, which can be irreversible. Untreated, the condition can cause fatal complications and lead to the death of the patient. This disease can cause a relatively large number of symptoms. The presence of these symptoms should never be taken lightly as prompt diagnosis and treatment can yield a more positive prognosis for the patient. Diagnostic tests need to be performed to identify the type of meningitis prior to treatment, since different causes may lead to the physiological symptoms associated with the disease.


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