Meningitis: Causes, Risk Factors, Types, Complications, Symptoms and Treatment

It is an inflammatory condition of the meninges (membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).

Meningitis can be fatal and requires immediate treatment with medications such as antibiotics, or it can get better on its own in a few weeks, it just depends on the cause.

Prompt treatment for meningitis can reduce the risk of complications.

There are several different types of meningitis, and some are much more dangerous than others.

Meningitis usually occurs when a virus or bacteria infects the brain, spinal cord, or the meninges themselves.

The immune system tries to fight these infections by triggering an inflammatory response that causes the meninges to swell and push against the brain and spinal cord.

Pressure against these organs can cause temporary symptoms, such as headaches and confusion, but it can also limit blood flow to the brain and can cause long-term damage or even death.

When an individual experiences the signs and symptoms of meningitis, they should see a doctor as soon as possible to begin treatment immediately.

The correct diagnosis at the right time will help reduce the possibility of further health complications.

Special care should be taken in the case of children as their symptoms are slightly different and difficult to identify.

Causes and risk factors of meningitis

It is often caused by a viral infection, but it can also be caused by a bacterial infection .

Although less common, it can also be caused by a yeast infection.

The most serious type of meningitis is caused by bacterial infections.

Factors that can make a person more susceptible to meningitis include the following:

  • Age: age is one of the factors that can put a person at risk for meningitis. Those under the age of 20 are prone to bacterial meningitis, while children under the age of 5 are prone to developing viral meningitis.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women are at risk of infection due to the listeria bacteria that can cause meningitis. Infection with these bacteria increases the chances of premature birth, miscarriages, and even stillbirth.
  • Weak immune system – A vulnerable immune system could be the result of alcoholism, diabetes, use of immunosuppressive drugs, or AIDS and could lead to meningitis. Spleen removal could be another risk-prone condition, but there are vaccines available to prevent meningitis in the absence of the spleen.
  • Neglecting vaccination – There are vaccines available to help prevent the spread of certain diseases. Many of these vaccines are scheduled to be taken during childhood or at particular ages. Failure to administer these vaccines at the correct time renders a person defenseless and the body is unable to produce the necessary antibodies to protect itself when foreign bodies try to infect the system.
  • Living in a community: people who live in places that have a community lifestyle share proximity to each other, are likely to develop meningococcal meningitis. Bacteria are contagious and spread rapidly through the respiratory tract.

Types

Fungal meningitis

Fungal meningitis is an uncommon and rare disease that is usually due to the spread of a fungus to the spinal cord through the blood.

Anyone in the general population can get yeast meningitis, but people with compromised immune systems and people with HIV or cancer are at higher risk for this disease.

Cryptococcus meningitis is the most common form of meningitis found in people with compromised immune systems.

Disease transmission

Fungal meningitis is by no means a contagious disease, which means that it cannot be transferred from person to person.

The development of this disease occurs when a fungus enters the central nervous system through the bloodstream from another part of the body.

You can also get fungal meningitis from medications that compromise or weaken the body’s immune system, such as steroids or medications given for autoimmune diseases.

Risk factors for fungal meningitis

The main reason for having this disease is a compromised immune system, therefore, people who have diseases or take medications that decrease the body’s immunity or have undergone a surgical procedure are at higher risk of suffering from this disease.

Premature babies who have below normal birth weights are also at higher risk for this disease.

Signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis

Some of the signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis are:

  • Elevated body temperature
  • Headaches.
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Sickness.
  • He retched.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Alteration of the mental state.
Diagnosis of fungal meningitis

If meningitis is suspected, blood samples are taken and cerebrospinal fluid samples are also taken for analysis.

Since the treatment of the different causes of meningitis is different, the specific cause of meningitis is vital, so for the confirmatory diagnosis specific laboratory tests are carried out according to the type of fungus that is suspected to be involved in the process of the illness.

Treatment of fungal meningitis

Treatment of fungal meningitis involves treatment with antifungal agents for a prolonged period, usually in a hospital setting through an IV.

The course and estimated duration of treatment depend on the immunity condition of the patient and the type of fungus supposedly involved.

Treatment is often longer in people with HIV, cancer, and people with diabetes.

Prevention of fungal meningitis

To avoid fungal meningitis, areas where fungi may be present should be avoided.

People with compromised immune systems or suffering from HIV should avoid dusty areas or areas that are geographically prone to the fungi that cause this disease.

Bacterial meningitis

Acute bacterial meningitis is the most common form of meningitis. About 80% of all cases are acute bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis can be life threatening.

The infection can cause the tissues around the brain to swell.

This, in turn, interferes with blood flow and can lead to paralysis or even stroke.

The organisms or germs that cause bacterial meningitis can live in the nose and throat.

People of any age can carry them without getting sick, but they can infect others by coughing or sneezing.

Meningitis caused by these bacteria is serious and requires immediate medical attention.

Antibiotics are used to treat the infection, but death occurs in a small number of those affected.

One in five children are left with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and deafness.

Strains of bacteria can cause different types of bacterial meningitis
  • Neisseria meningitides (meningococcus): This bacteria enters through the upper respiratory system, and then passes into the bloodstream. It is one of the main causes of meningitis and occurs mainly in adolescents and young adults. It is highly contagious but vaccines are available to prevent infection.
  • Listeria monocytogenes (listeria): Newborns, older adults, pregnant women, and people with a weak immune system are more susceptible to the effects of these types of bacteria. Listeria infection can be fatal to the baby during late pregnancy as bacteria can cross the placental barrier.
  • Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus): These bacteria are one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in adults, infants, and young children. It can cause ear and sinus infection or pneumonia. Vaccines can help prevent this condition.
  • Haemophilus influenzae (Haemophilus): Haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria, in times past, was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children. However, with the development of new vaccines against this type of meningitis, there has been a substantial reduction in the occurrence of such cases.
Risk factors for bacterial meningitis

Children between the ages of 1 month and 2 years are the most susceptible to bacterial meningitis.

Adults with certain risk factors are also susceptible to bacterial meningitis.

An individual is at increased risk if he abuses alcohol, has chronic nose and ear infections, suffers a head injury, or has pneumococcal pneumonia.

You are also at higher risk if you have a weakened immune system, have had your spleen removed, take corticosteroids due to kidney failure, or have sickle cell disease.

Also, if you have had brain or spinal surgery or have had a generalized blood infection, you are also at increased risk for bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis outbreaks also occur in living situations where you are in close contact with other people, such as university dorms or military barracks.

Bacterial meningitis transmission

Most types of meningitis are contagious.

A person can be exposed to the meningitis bacteria when someone with meningitis coughs or sneezes.

These bacteria can also be spread through kissing or sharing objects such as eating utensils or a toothbrush.

Bacterial meningitis causes

The bacteria most frequently responsible for bacterial meningitis are common in the environment and can also be found in the nose and respiratory system without causing any harm.

Sometimes meningitis occurs for no known reason.

Other times it happens after a head injury or after you’ve had an infection and your immune system is weakened.

Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis

The most common symptoms are high fever, headaches, and the inability to lower the chin to the chest due to a stiff neck.

Older children and adults may present confusion, irritability, increased drowsiness. Seizures and a stroke can occur.

In young children, fever can cause vomiting and they may refuse to eat. Young children can become very irritable and cry. There may be seizures.

Also, because the fluid around the skull can become blocked, their heads can swell. The onset of symptoms is rapid and occurs within 24 hours.

If the disease is allowed to progress, the patient may die.

Bacterial meningitis diagnosis

It is important that immediate medical help is sought if meningitis is suspected.

The doctor will do a physical exam and look for a purple or red rash on the skin.

The doctor will check the stiffness of your neck and examine the flexion of the hip and knee.

To perform the differential diagnosis of the cause of meningitis (bacterial, viral, or fungal), it is necessary to analyze the spinal fluid, so a lumbar puncture should be ordered.

Blood and urine samples, as well as mucous membranes from the nose and throat, can also be tested.

Bacterial meningitis prevention

Some forms of meningitis can be prevented through immunization, including:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b can be prevented with immunization with Hib, which is available in free combination vaccines from the National Immunization Program. It is routinely offered for infants and must be purchased by prescription for some groups at high risk for bacterial disease.
  • Meningococcal groups A, B, C, W135, and Y can be prevented with a variety of vaccines. Some vaccines are available free from immunization programs in some countries.

Pneumococcus can be prevented with two types of pneumococcal vaccine.

Treatment for bacterial meningitis

Early diagnosis is very important in the treatment of bacterial meningitis. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics (often given through a vein).
  • Anti-seizure medications, cortisone, and sedatives, which can be used to treat complications.

The doctor will choose a combination of antibiotics depending on the specific bacteria that is causing the infection.

A broad-spectrum antibiotic is used until the specific cause of the meningitis is determined.

If there is an infected breast or mastoid, they will be drained.

3. Meningitis viral

Viral meningitis is a type of meningitis that gets better on its own within a few weeks.

Treatment for this condition includes having plenty of fluids, bed rest, and taking pain relievers to relieve fever and body aches.

Medications are also available in case the herpes virus is the cause of meningitis.

Anti-seizure medications help with seizures, while corticosteroids help reduce inflammation in the brain.

Meningitis caused by a virus is relatively common and can sometimes be serious. It can be caused by a variety of different viruses.

It usually arises as a complication of another viral disease.

Viruses that cause viral meningitis

Some of the viruses that can cause meningitis include:

  • Enterovirus.
  • Virus de Coxsackie
  • Mumps virus.
  • Adenovirus.
Prevention of viral meningitis

The spread of many viral infections can be prevented by using a tissue and washing your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.

Close contact, sneezing, and coughing on other people should also be avoided when you have a viral infection.

Treatment for viral meningitis

Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms.

Treatment is the same as for any viral infection and may include supportive care, such as:

  • Rest.
  • Stay warm and comfortable.
  • Drink a lot of liquids.

Viral meningitis cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Treatment for meningitis depends on the particular type or cause.

Complications of meningitis

The long-term prognosis for children who develop bacterial meningitis varies significantly.

The outcome depends on the age of the child, the bacteria causing the infection, the complications, and the treatment the child receives.

The complications that occur in bacterial meningitis can be very serious and include neurological problems such as hearing loss, visual impairment, seizures, and learning disabilities.

On the other hand, organs such as the heart, kidneys and adrenal glands can be affected.

Children who receive early diagnosis and treatment make a full recovery.

Cases of viral meningitis usually resolve without major complications.

Meningitis in children, adolescents, and adults

When young or school-age children develop meningitis, it is usually caused by a virus.

Children have a fever, stiff neck, and may have trouble walking or reaching for toys.

If they are old enough to speak, they may say things without much meaning.

In teens, the first signs of meningitis look a lot like a cold or the flu.

Runny nose and sore throat, but very quickly they can develop high fever, stiffness and confusion, they can even become completely numb, and have trouble waking up.

This is the age group in which doctors begin to be most concerned about bacterial meningitis.

The type caused by Neisseria meningitidis can make a child sick so quickly that sometimes there is an enormous amount of damage before it can even be diagnosed.

Bacterial meningitis can spread quickly between people around you – at school, in college dorms, or on sports teams.

And the type of bacteria that has caused recent high-profile outbreaks on college campuses, Neisseria meningitidis, is especially fast and dangerous.

Children and young adults may be at higher risk for meningitis, but people of any age can be affected.

In adults, bacterial meningitis can be caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, the same bacteria that cause pneumonia and sinus infections.

Older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk of developing meningitis.