We have 3 membranes that cover our brain and spinal cord, which are known as the meninges. When these membranes become inflamed, this is known as meningitis – a condition that affects as many as 1 million people worldwide each year. The most common form of meningitis is viral, though it can also commonly be bacterial in nature, and, rarely, parasitic or fungal. Below is a look at the how each of these forms of meningitis present themselves, the symptoms that you need to be aware of, precautions you should take, as well as information on how meningitis is treated.
Viral meningitis consists of as many as 85 percent of all meningitis cases and is related to the enterovirus family In addition, viral meningitis can also be caused as a result of other viruses, such as influenza, measles, mumps, HIV and the herpes simplex virus, as well as the West Nile virus. In many cases, when a virus is to blame for meningitis, it is usually quite mild and will often require no treatment. However, you may require in-patient care if you are considered high-risk, which includes newborns and infants, older adults, and those with weakened or already-compromised immune systems.
Bacterial meningitis, compared to viral meningitis, is much more severe, contagious, and if left untreated could be fatal. In fact, anywhere from 5 to 40 percent of children and 20 to 50 percent of adults with bacterial meningitis will die. Common types of bacteria that are linked to this type of meningitis include streptococcus pneumoniae (which is found in the respiratory tract, sinuses and nasal cavity), haemophilus influenza (which not only causes meningitis, but can also cause infection of the blood in addition to infectious arthritis, inflammation of the windpipe, and cellulitis), listeria monocytogenes (bacteria that is foodborne), and staphylococcus aureus (also found in the respiratory tract in addition to being found on the skin.)
Less common that viral and bacterial meningitis, parasitic meningitis is caused by parasites that are found in things like dirt and feces, as well as on animals and food (such as poultry, raw fish, and produce), and therefore, unlike both viral and bacterial meningitis, parasitic meningitis is not passed from person to person. There is a very rare type of parasitic meningitis that one can develop, known as amebic meningitis. This type of meningitis is caused when different types of ameba enter the body through the nose, often the result of swimming in contaminated water (such as a lake, river of pond.) Amebic meningitis can destroy brain tissue and result in very serious symptoms such as hallucinations and seizures. You are at an increased risk of parasitic meningitis if you live in or travel to certain parts of the world (such as parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands.)
Fungal meningitis is a rare type of meningitis that develops as a result of fungus infecting your body and spreading from the bloodstream to your brain and/or spinal cord. Funguses that are most commonly linked to fungal meningitis include Cryptococcus (found in dirt/soil contaminated with bird droppings), blastomyces (found in soil that is located in the midwestern part of the United States), histoplasma (also found in the midwestern part of the USA, in addition to environments that have been heavily contaminated with both bird and bat droppings), and coccidioides (found in soil located in the southwest United States, as well as both South and Central America.) The change of developing fungal meningitis is rare, though you can be at an increased risk if you have a weakened immune system or have been diagnosed with HIV or cancer.
Symptoms of Meningitis
Symptoms of viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal meningitis can be similar, though they can also slightly differ. For example, infants and children with viral meningitis may become irritable, have a decreased appetite, increased fatigue, and fever, while adults can also develop these symptoms in addition to headaches, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, and even seizures. The symptoms of bacterial meningitis will often develop much more suddenly, however, and can also include the aforementioned symptoms in addition to developing an altered mental state and skin that appears to have bruising. Based on how you feel, there is no way to tell whether you have viral or bacterial meningitis. However, bacterial meningitis can be deadly, therefore it’s important to let your physician know of any abnormal symptoms you’re experiencing.
Diagnosing and Treating Meningitis
Meningitis is often diagnosed through blood analysis as well as a spinal tap or lumbar puncture. The treatment you receive will depend upon the type of meningitis you have. Viral meningitis, for example, will usually go away on its own, though some patients may benefit from getting antiviral medications administered intravenously. Because bacterial meningitis can be severe and even fatal, patients diagnosed with this form of meningitis will require immediate hospitalization and be treated with intravenous antibiotics. When you have parasitic meningitis, doctors may choose to directly treat just the infection, just the symptoms, or both, depending on the parasitic cause, while fungal meningitis is treated with antifungal agents.