Meningitis is an infection of the meninges (coverings around the brain). Infectious agents filter into the spinal fluid via bloodstream causing the inflammation of the meninges. These Infectious agents can be either bacterial or viral and they usually enter the bloodstream from parts of the nose and throat.
Bacteria can end up in the spinal fluid after getting into blood vessels. This can happen when there is erosion of the throat tissue caused by sore throat, for example. In more extreme situations, bacteria can escape into meninges by way of ruptures in the brain covering caused by skull fracture.
Meningitis-causing bacteria are normally present in our body, but only after they enter the spinal fluid or get in contact with the meninges will they cause the infection.
Types of meningitis
There are two basic types of meningitis: bacterial and viral. There are also many types of both.
Bacterial meningitis is related to age group. There is a particular group of bacteria that causes meningitis in the age group od 3 months to two years, and a different group of bacteria that causes the disease in the age group of one year to adulthood. The latter group (meningococcemia) is more common and affects young children of 2 or under because young children don’t have natural immunity to the disease. Viral meningitis is not so common and is not related to age.
Symptoms of meningitis
The symptoms of meningitis are not specific and are varied, ranging from flu-like symptoms (fever, vomiting, sore throat etc.) to lethargy.
Children with meningitis lack energy and enthusiasm and will usually lose alertness. The symptom that clearly points to meningitis is a stiff neck. However, not all cases of stiff necks entail the presence of infection. Plus, in very young children, this symptom may not even occur.
So, if a child has non-specific symptoms, how can you diagnose meningitis?
In case of a very young child a spinal tap may be the only way to be sure whether or not meningitis is present. Spinal tap is a simple procedure whereby the doctor taps the spine and draws out the spinal fluid, which will show changes in its chemistry and appearance. In case the spinal fluid is clear, the additional bacterial stain and culture may be needed. The presence of meningitis will definitely show up on the smear and in the culture.
How do you cure meningitis?
In case of viral meningitis, time is the best treatment. The disease is self limiting and the patient will get better regardless of whether or not it is treated.
Curing bacterial meningitis is more complicated because the treatment should be aimed at the specific bacteria that caused meningitis in the first place.
Antibiotics are commonly used to cure meningitis, and they will vary according to the bacteria that caused the disease.
Meningitis was fatal before the time of antibiotics, but now the mortality rate is very small. However, just like any other disease, you must begin the treatment as soon as you spot the symptoms. The quicker the treatment begins the less chance there is of any possible damage to one’s body.
If meningitis is left untreated it can be as dangerous and fatal as it was 100 years ago when there were no antibiotics. However, if it is diagnosed and treated early enough, it is most likely that there will be no complications.
However, the infectious meningococcal bacteria can cause other complications without the patient’s developing meningitis. They can cause gangrene if they end up in the body tissue, as well as damage the central nervous system and cause circulatory collapse.
Is meningitis contagious?
Meningococcal bacteria are epidemic. They are passed just like someone passes a common cold, through secretions from the nose and throat.
While meningitis is not a common disease, it is certainly not rare. It’s been around enough so that doctors will forever be aware of it.
If you are a parent with a child who has flu-like symptoms that get worse over a period of time, you should definitely have your child checked for meningitis. Moreover, if you child is lethargic, irritable and less responsive, he should be taken to the doctor immediately. Early treatment decreases the chances of any possible complications or even death, the quicker the child can be taken care of the better.
Though treatable, meningitis is a serious disease. It takes responsibility and alertness on the part of the parents. The early administration of proper antibiotics is all it takes to cure meningitis.