Meningitis


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  • Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. This inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

    Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, but can be a result of injury, cancer, or certain drugs.

    It is important to know the specific cause of meningitis because the treatment differs depending on the cause.

    • Bacterial Meningitis

    Meningitis caused by bacteria, like Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, and Neisseria meningitidis can be life threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Vaccines are available to help protect against some kinds of bacterial meningitis.

     

    • Viral Meningitis

    Meningitis caused by viruses, like enteroviruses, arboviruses and herpes simplex viruses, is serious but often is less severe than bacterial meningitis, and people with normal immune systems usually get better on their own.  There are vaccines to prevent some kinds of viral meningitis.

    • Fungal Meningitis

    Fungal meningitis is caused by fungi like Cryptococcus and Histoplasma and is usually acquired by inhaling fungal spores from the environment. People with certain medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, or HIV are at higher risk of fungal meningitis.

    Parasitic Meningitis

    Various parasites can cause meningitis or can affect the brain or nervous system in other ways. Overall, parasitic meningitis is much less common than viral and bacterial meningitis.

    Amebic Meningitis

    Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a rare and devastating infection of the brain that is caused by a free-living microscopic ameba called Naegleria fowleri which is found naturally in warm water and soil.

    • Non-Infectious Meningitis

    Sometimes meningitis is not spread from person to person, but is instead caused by cancers, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), certain drugs, head injury, and brain surgery.

    How it Spreads

    Bacterial Meningitis

    Bacterial meningitis is spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if living in the same household.

    Viral Meningitis

    If you have close contact with a person who has viral meningitis, you may become infected with the virus that made the person sick. However, you are probably not likely to develop meningitis from the illness. That’s because only a small number of people who get infected with the viruses that cause meningitis will actually develop meningitis.

    Bacterial meningitis is very serious and can be deadly. Death can occur in as little as a few hours. Most people recover from meningitis. However, permanent disabilities (such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities) can result from the infection.

    There are several types of bacteria that can cause meningitis. Leading causes in the United States include

    • Streptococcus pneumoniae
    • Group B Streptococcus
    • Neisseria meningitidis
    • Haemophilus influenzae
    • Listeria monocytogenes

    On average, bacterial meningitis caused about 4,100 cases and 500 deaths in the United States each year between 2003 and 2007.* [1]

    These bacteria can also be associated with another serious illness, sepsis. Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection that can cause tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

    Causes

    Common causes of bacterial meningitis vary by age group:

    • Newborns: Group B Streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli
    • Babies and children: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), group B Streptococcus
    • Teens and young adults: Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae
    • Older adults: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), group B Streptococcus, Listeria monocytogenes

    Risk Factors

    Certain people are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis. Some risk factors include:

    • Age
      • Babies are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis compared to people in other age groups. However, people of any age can develop bacterial meningitis. See section above for which bacteria more commonly affect which age groups.
    • Community setting
      • Infectious diseases tend to spread where large groups of people gather together. College campuses have reported outbreaks of meningococcal disease, caused by N. meningitidis.
    • Certain medical conditions
      • There are certain medical conditions, medications, and surgical procedures that put people at increased risk for meningitis.
    • Working with meningitis-causing pathogens
      • Microbiologists routinely exposed to meningitis-causing bacteria are at increased risk for meningitis.
    • Travel
      • Travelers may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease, caused by N. meningitidis, if they travel to certain places, such as:
        • The meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly during the dry season
        • Mecca during the annual Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage

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    How it Spreads

    Generally, the germs that cause bacterial meningitis spread from one person to another. Certain germs, such as Listeria monocytogenes, can spread through food.

    How people spread the germs often depends on the type of bacteria. It is also important to know that people can carry these bacteria in or on their bodies without being sick. These people are “carriers.” Most carriers never become sick, but can still spread the bacteria to others.

    Here are some of the most common examples of how people spread each type of bacteria to each other:

    • Mothers can pass group B Streptococcus and Escherichia coli to their babies during labor and birth.
    • People spread Hib and Streptococcus pneumoniae by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who breathe in the bacteria.
    • People spread Neisseria meningitidis by sharing respiratory or throat secretions (saliva or spit). This typically occurs during close (coughing or kissing) or lengthy (living in the same household) contact.
    • People can get Escherichia coli by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet.

    People usually get sick from Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes by eating contaminated food.

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    Meningitis Symptoms

    Signs and Symptoms

    Meningitis symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. There are often other symptoms, such as

    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)
    • Altered mental status (confusion)

    In newborns and babies, the meningitis symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to notice. The baby may be irritable, vomit, feed poorly, or appear to be slow or inactive. In young babies, doctors may also look for a bulging fontanelle (soft spot on infant’s head) or abnormal reflexes. If you think your baby or child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.

    Symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3 to 7 days after exposure

    Later symptoms of bacterial meningitis can be very serious (e.g., seizures, coma). For this reason, anyone who thinks they may have meningitis should see a doctor as soon as possible.

    Diagnosis

    If a doctor thinks you have meningitis, they will collect samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (fluid near the spinal cord). A laboratory will test the samples to see what is causing the infection. It is important to know the specific cause of meningitis so the doctors know how to treat it.

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    1 Comment

    1. October 5, 2018
      Reply

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