Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which are thin membranes that line and protect the brain and the spinal cord.
Meningitis has two possible origins.
Viral meningitis, which is caused, as its name suggests, by a virus. It manifests itself as the flu or a cold, and is not dangerous. The symptoms usually disappear on their own, in one to two weeks, and do not require medication.
As for bacterial meningitis, it is an extremely serious disease that we should treat very quickly, as in 10 percent of the cases, it can be fatal. In Canada, currently it affects 2 in every 100,000 people.
Causes Of Meningitis
As we mention above, viral meningitis has a viral origin. Mostly it occurs in the summer and accounts for about 80 percent of all diagnoses.
Bacterial meningitis is more rare, and it’s caused mainly by 4 different kinds of bacteria:
- Pneumococcus – This is the leading cause of meningitis in North America.
- Haemophilus – Thanks to the routine vaccination of babies, it is almost eradicated.
- Meningococcus – This is the only form that can cause epidemics.
- Listeriosis – We can find the bacteria in question in luncheon meats, hot dogs, and cheese. It’s not dangerous for a healthy adult, but it can cause serious problems for babies and young children. Also, mothers can transmit it to their unborn babies.
Who Is Affected By Meningitis?
This inflammation can affect everyone, regardless of age and gender. However, it is more common in:
- Young children under the age of 2
- Teenagers and young adults (18 to 25 years old)
- Soldiers who live in barracks
- Students who live in dormitories
- Children attending daycare
- People whose immune system is already compromised by an illness (diabetes, kidney failure, AIDS), stress, or medication (for example, chemotherapy)
- People who have had surgery on the brain or spinal cord
- Intimate contacts with already infected patients
- People who have long stays in countries where the disease is more common
In addition, researchers have found that children exposed to second-hand smoke are at greater risk of getting meningitis.
Meningitis spreads like an influenza or cold, that is to say by the droplets of body secretions in the air, or by direct or indirect contact with an object contaminated by saliva (toys, door handles, hands, kisses, etc.)
Listeriosis can be transmitted by poorly washed food, or when touching objects with soil (for example, cat litter).
The Main Symptoms Of Meningitis
The symptoms of viral meningitis resemble those of an influenza or a cold. You’ll have a moderate fever, dry cough, nasal secretions, muscular pains, fatigue, etc.
In the case of an infection of bacterial origin, the situation of the patient deteriorates very quickly (in just a few hours.) The most frequent symptoms are:
- High fever
- Pain and stiff neck when turning your head
- In some cases, a rash
- Increased sensitivity to light
- An epileptic seizure
In newborns and very young children who cannot express themselves, it may be difficult to recognize these symptoms. Thus, it is best to contact the emergency department if your child, in addition to the obvious signs (vomiting, etc.), displays a different behavior:
- Refuses to eat
- Cannot stay awake
- Screams or moans a lot and loudly
- Looks very agitated and does not calm down
- Has ‘empty’ eyes, without any expression
- It’s irritable
For listeriosis, there are also other symptoms:
- Painful abdominal cramps
If the doctor suspects bacterial meningitis, he/she can draw cerebrospinal fluid to quickly determine the involved bacterium. This examination is called a lumbar puncture. In addition, medical staff may require additional tests, such as blood tests, CT scans, and MRIs.
To check at home, you can also do the simple glass test. Spot the rash on your skin and press a glass against it. If the rash does not fade, it’s most likely meningitis and requires a medical emergency.
Possible Risks Of Complications
Bacterial meningitis can cause irreversible disabilities, such as deafness or brain damage.
About one in 10 people will not survive, despite treatment. This usually occurs if the patient starts with the antibiotic treatment too late, and the infection spreads to the body and infects the blood, causing sepsis.
If the inflammation is of viral origin, there is not much to do. Just take medication that can reduce the discomfort of symptoms.
However, in the case of bacterial infection, the person must be hospitalized urgently to receive intravenous antibiotic therapy, which can last from 7 to 10 days. Doctors often start with treatment even before the final test results, because of the possible complications of meningitis. Every hour that passes can become fatal…