Meningitis is an infection that exists in two major forms: bacterial and viral. Viral meningitis usually gets better on its own and is unlikely to cause long-term problems but bacterial meningitis is a very serious condition which requires emergency hospitalization. How can you recognize the symptoms of meningitis and what should be done about them? Gentside takes a look at this potentially fatal disease.
What Is Meningitis?
Meningitis is, as its name suggests, inflammation of the meninges. These are the membranes which surround the brain and spinal cord and form a space in which the cerebrospinal fluid circulates. The role of these membranes is to protect the central nervous system, however, they can fall victim to infection caused by different pathogens that will then cause inflammation.
There are several types of meningitis, ranging from mild to a disease which can be deadly without immediate treatment.
Causes: Bacterial Meningitis Or Viral Meningitis?
In the majority of cases (more than 70%), meningitis is caused by a virus, this is called viral meningitis. But it can also be caused by a bacterium, in which case it is called bacterial meningitis. In rarer cases, the disease can be caused by certain types of cancer, an inflammatory disease such as lupus, an infection from a fungus or an allergic reaction to a drug.
Viral meningitis most often presents little risk. It commonly affects children and young adults and generally goes away by itself.
Bacterial meningitis is much more serious and requires emergency treatment. This contagious form can be transmitted through close and prolonged contact with an infected person. However, not all people exposed to the bacteria will necessarily develop the disease. The bacterium is spread through saliva and nasal secretions, for example, through a kiss on the mouth, drinking from the same glasses, using the same utensils, bottles, or anything that is in contact with the oral mucosa.
Bacterial meningitis can be caused by various pathogens including Haemophilus, meningococcus, pneumococcus or streptococcus. Meningococcal meningitis can cause serious complications and can even be fatal. This is why it is considered a medical emergency.
The Symptoms Of Meningitis
Meningitis is manifested by the appearance of several characteristic symptoms:
- high fever
- stiffness in the neck
- intense headaches
- in some cases, photosensitivity (difficulty to cope with light)
- a blotchy rash that doesn't disappear when a glass is rolled over it (this will not occur in every case)
In cases of severe meningitis, such as bacterial meningitis, the patient may have problems with consciousness, agitation, and possibly coma. The first symptoms of meningitis appear suddenly and the disease can be fatal within a few days or even hours. You should seek medical advice immediately should these symptoms appear.
Treatments differ depending on whether the disease is viral or bacterial. In case of viral meningitis , the treatment is light, it involves a lot of rest and healthy food. The doctor may also prescribe medications to relieve symptoms such as fever and headaches.
For bacterial meningitis, hospitalization is essential and the treatment is primarily composed of antibiotics. This is an absolute emergency, according to specialists treatment must be established "at the latest within three hours, ideally within one hour of arrival at the hospital." According to a US study, appropriate antibiotic treatment reduces the risk of dying from meningitis to less than 15%, although the risk is higher in the elderly. With timely management, meningitis can be cured. However, it is often fatal when it is detected too late.