Meningitis is a disease where the protective membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain are inflamed. The inflammation can be caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, or other micro-organisms. Meningitis can be life-threatening because of its proximity to the spinal cord and brain, although it can get better on its own in just a few weeks. It can lead to serious long-term consequences including epilepsy, cognitive deficits, deafness, and hydrocephalus, and is classified as a medical emergency.
Signs and symptoms of meningitis may develop over a few days or several hours. It is important to seek medical care immediately if you or someone you know has symptoms or signs of meningitis. These symptoms include sudden high fever, stiff neck, severe headache, difficulty concentrating, confusion, nausea or vomiting, difficulty waking up, seizures, sensitivity to light, skin rash, and a lack of interest in eating and drinking. In newborns, parents should look for constant crying, inactivity, high fever, excessive sleepiness, a bulge in the soft spot on the baby’s head, poor feeding, and stiffness in the baby’s neck and body. Viral meningitis generally improves without treatment, but bacterial meningitis can strike quickly and is very serious, requiring antibiotic treatment to fully recover. The Meningitis Research Foundation has more information about the symptoms of the disease.
Meningitis can result from a bacterial infection, although it usually occurs because of a viral infection. Acute bacterial meningitis occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and migrate to the spinal cord and brain. It can occur as a result of a sinus or ear infection, and sometimes a skull fracture. There are a number of strains of bacteria that can cause acute bacterial meningitis. Streptococcus pneumoniae causes pneumonia or sinus and ear infections, which can lead to meningitis. This is a common infection in the United States. Neisseria meningitis occurs when bacteria enters the bloodstream from an upper respiratory infection. This is a highly contagious infection and affects mainly young adults and teenagers. Viral meningitis is generally mild and often clears on its own. A group of viruses called enteroviruses causes most viral meningitis cases in the United States. Viruses such as HIV, herpes, West Nile, and mumps can also cause viral meningitis. Chronic meningitis occurs when the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain is invaded by slow-growing organisms. Meningitis can also result from non-infectious cases, such as drug allergies, chemical reactions, and certain types of cancer.
It is important to maintain a strong immune system. This includes eating a balanced diet, getting a sufficient amount of sleep and maintaining strong sleeping patterns, and including exercise in your daily routine. You may also want to take supplements, such as Vitamins A, C, E, and D. These help you maintain good health and decrease the chances of you developing inflammation around the spinal cord and brain, lowering the risk of meningitis. It is also important to wash your hands frequently, ensuring your hands are free of bacteria. This includes keeping your home clean, especially kitchen and bathroom counters, and other surfaces that people share. You may also want to get a vaccination. Your doctor can advise you what vaccination you should receive, as immunization is one of the best ways to prevent meningitis. Children are usually immunized with Hemophilus influenzae type b vaccine at 18 months, 2, 4, and 6 to help prevent meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis that is caused by infection is treated by a combination of antibiotics, depending on your age, the type of bacteria that is suspected, and various other factors. These antibiotics are usually injected into a vein.
People with meningitis may also need supportive treatment like fever-reducing medications and intravenous fluids. Viral meningitis cannot be cured by antibiotics, and most cases will eventually improve on their own. The best way to treat viral meningitis is by consuming plenty of fluids, getting a lot of bed rest, and taking over-the-counter pain medications to help relieve body aches and reduce fever.