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How Do You Know if You Have Meningitis?

Reviewed on 12/21/2020

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the layers of tissue and fluid that cover the spine and brain. All types of meningitis cause these three symptoms - high fever, severe headache, and a stiff neck that makes it hard to lower the chin to the chest.
Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the layers of tissue and fluid that cover the spine and brain. All types of meningitis cause these three symptoms - high fever, severe headache, and a stiff neck that makes it hard to lower the chin to the chest.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining and fluid around the brain and the spinal cord, known as the meninges. It can be caused by bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections. In some people, symptoms can occur quickly, in others, it may develop over a few days or a few weeks. Some people can improve without treatment while in others it may be life-threatening and death can occur in just a few hours. 

Anyone can get meningitis but some people are more at risk than others. Some risk factors include: 

  • Age: most cases occur in infants and children under the age of five
  • Living in a crowded setting, such as college dorms or military barracks
  • A weakened immune system
  • Having had their spleen removed
  • If the recommended child or adult vaccinations haven't been completed
  • Travel to some parts of the world such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

Recognizing the symptoms of meningitis, especially bacterial meningitis symptoms, is important, as early treatment can prevent serious complications, such as:

Anyone with symptoms of meningitis should see a doctor immediately.

Symptoms of meningitis

Different types of meningitis cause different symptoms. The symptoms also differ in how quickly they develop and how severe they are. But all types of meningitis cause these three {Johns Hopkins Medicine:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • A stiff neck that makes it hard to lower the chin to the chest. 

In infants, these symptoms may not be easy to identify or may not be present. Infants may show these signs :

  • Crying constantly
  • Excessive sleepiness or irritability
  • Inactivity or unresponsiveness
  • Refusing feeds
  • Vomiting  
  • The soft spots on their heads (fontanelle) may bulge because the fluid around their heads are blocked  

In older children and adults, other symptoms include:

There are vaccines that offer protection from certain types of meningitis. Some of these, such as the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, are part of the vaccination schedule for children recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

As with any vaccine, they're not 100 percent effective, but are the best way to protect against some types of bacterial meningitis.

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Bowel regularity means a bowel movement every day. See Answer

Causes of meningitis

There are several causes of meningitis. Because some types of meningitis can be life-threatening, anyone with symptoms of meningitis should see a doctor as soon as possible. 

Bacterial meningitis

The germs that cause bacterial meningitis are spread from person to person. Many carriers may not get sick but can spread germs to others. 

Some common examples of how these infections can spread are:

  • Coughing
  • Kissing 
  • Sneezing
  • Sharing of food and drink, lip balms, toothbrushes, or utensils
  • Long periods of living together

There are several different types of bacteria that cause meningitis, such as:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae — the most common cause of bacterial meningitis
  • Group B Streptococcus — mothers can pass this to their babies at birth
  • Neisseria meningitidis — another common cause which mainly affects teenagers and young adults
  • Haemophilus influenzae - once the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children but now less common due to vaccinations
  • Listeria monocytogenes — found in lunch meats, hot dogs, and unpasteurized cheeses 

Viral meningitis

This is the most common type of meningitis. This type of meningitis is usually mild and clears up on its own. It can be spread in different ways, but most are caused by a group of viruses called enteroviruses. Other common causes include herpes simplex virus, mumps virus, and viruses spread by mosquitoes such as West Nile virus

Fungal meningitis

Fungal meningitis is rare in the US. It's caused by breathing in fungal spores that can be found in bird and bat droppings, decaying wood and leaves, and soil. If the spores spread from the lungs to the brain or spinal cord, the person can get meningitis.

A type of fungus called Candida lives in our bodies and our skin, and in some people, it can enter the bloodstream and organs and cause meningitis. Fungal meningitis doesn't spread from person to person {Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Fungal Meningitis."}.

Chronic meningitis

This is a type of meningitis that develops slowly and lasts for four weeks or more. It tends to affect people with immune systems weakened by cancer or AIDS, the use of certain cancer drugs, or long-term use of some drugs such as prednisone

Chronic meningitis is caused by slow-growing organisms such as bacteria that causes Tuberculosis or Lyme disease, or some types of fungi.

Diagnosing meningitis

Your doctor may run one of the following tests to confirm that it's meningitis:

Treatments for meningitis

Treatment depends on the type of meningitis. Bacterial Meningitis Bacterial meningitis has a 10 percent death rate. Most people recover but if left untreated, death can occur in a few hours.

It's treated with antibiotics and sometimes corticosteroids. The type of antibiotics used depends on the type of bacteria that's causing the meningitis, so before the specific cause is identified, your doctor may first prescribe a general antibiotic.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis can't be cured with antibiotics. Most people recover on their own in seven to 10 days with no medication. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications if the meningitis is caused by certain viruses such as influenza

Mild cases can be treated with bed rest, lots of fluids, and some over-the-counter medications to help lower fever and reduce body aches.

Fungal Meningitis

Fungal meningitis is treated with antifungal medicine. Treatment is often longer for people with weakened immune systems.

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References
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Bacterial Meningitis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Fungal Meningitis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Viral Meningitis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Meningitis."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Bacterial Meningitis."

Mayo Clinic: "Meningitis."

The Neurohospitalist: "Evaluation and Treatment of Chronic Meningitis."

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