Meningitis is a potentially deadly inflammation of the fluid and membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by a bacteria, virus, fungus, or parasite. Bacterial meningitis is the most severe. Even with prompt treatment, approximately 10-20% of patients will bacterial meningitis die within 23-48 hours after onset of symptoms, and around 10-30% will sustain permanent damage and disability.
The main symptoms of meningitis are fever, rash, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, and drowsiness. Symptoms can develop over a matter of hours and can mimic the flu, or may not appear at all. Until the cause of meningitis is known, it should be considered a medical emergency.
Doctors may draw a blood test and perform a lumbar puncture in order to diagnose meningitis. A lumbar puncture is a procedure where a needles is inserted into the spinal canal in order to obtain a culture of cerebrospinal fluid. Doctors then look for the presence of bacteria and white blood cells.
Even while diagnostic tests are being performed and results are pending, treatment should not be delayed more than 1-2 hours. Bacterial meningitis requires intravenous antibiotics and fluids. Doctors will decide the appropriate choice of antibiotic for specific bacteria. If a person has viral meningitis, antibiotics are not useful. Instead the person will be treated with pain relievers and rest.
Standard hand hygiene and keeping surfaces clean can help protect against meningitis. People should not share anything that has been in their mouth. Current vaccines protect against the three major causes of bacterial meningitis, meningococcal disease, pneumococcal meningitis, and Haemophilus influenza Type b. Smoking increases a persons risk of being a carrier of meningitis. Anyone who has been in close contact with a meningitis patient within seven days before the onset of their symptoms is at increased risk of contracting it themselves. For more information on meningitis please visit The Confederation of Meningitis Organisations Inc.