Meningitis is an inflammation of brain membrane (meninges) and spinal cord due to bacterial or viral infections. Many potential agents (bacteria) are constantly present in the nose and throat of most people who, however, do not suffer from this disease. It appears that infection can only occur if the natural resistance of the individual weakens.
Infection can reach the brain membrane in several ways. Microbes, for example, can spread by blood flow from another infected part of the body, such as the lungs. Microbes can reach the brain and through the cavities in the bones from the infected ear or sinus. The head injury with skull fractures allows easy entry to the infection.
Meningitis occurs in many forms and stages, which mostly depends on the bacterium or the virus.
Within a few hours, symptoms such as elevated temperature, nausea and vomiting, neck stiffness and photophobia occur. Sometimes, as an additional symptom, there is a reddish or purple rash on almost all or all body. If the infection develops uncontrollably, the patient becomes disoriented, sleepy and can, after some time, lose consciousness. Symptoms do not have to be so obvious in infants and young children.
Meningitis occurs in some areas where there is a possibility of accomodating a large number of people (e.g. in dormitories, workrooms, etc.). The most common form of meningitis, viral infection, is transmitted by air. Therefore it can often occur as an epidemic, especially in winter, as well as most viral diseases. The disease can affect anyone regardless of age or gender. Epidemics rarely last for more than a few weeks, and in that period in hospitals that do not have a single case of meningitis during the year can have several patients with this disease. There are also possible epidemics of bacterial meningitis, but some cases are also commonplace. Meningitis is more common in tropical regions, especially in regions where tuberculosis is still prevalent since tuberculosis itself can cause meningitis.
The sooner the patient begins with the treatment of bacterial meningitis, the better are the results. The outcome of untreated bacterial meningitis may be fatal. Most people are fully recovered, though in some cases they may suffer permanent damage such as deafness, blindness or mental disorders. In very rare cases, epidural abscess can develop, even when meningitis is timely discovered and treated. As for adverse outcome of illness or permanent damage, infants and the elderly are the most endangered, perhaps because in such cases it is likely that the diagnosis is delayed, and because of the weak resistance of the organism.
Fortunately, viral meningitis is usually lighter than bacterial meningitis and, in most cases, patients can expect a complete recovery without any subsequent consequences.
What to do?
If you notice any symptoms of meningitis on yourself or any member of the family, especially if it is a combination of severe headache, neck stiffness and photophobia, contact your doctor immediately. Orientation diagnosis of meningitis can be confirmed at hospital by examining a sample of cerebrospinal fluid in which your central nervous system is “bathed”. If the sample, obtained by lumbar puncture, looks blurry and contains cells of pus, it is a sign of brain membrane infection. With further tests of the sample a cause can be found.
In most cases the patient must stay in the hospital until the infection of the membrane is suppressed. In the case of bacterial infection, the patient receives high doses of antibiotics that can be administered directly into the vein by intravenous infusion; it can take up to two weeks. The type of treatment can be different from case to case, since a large number of bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis. For the same reason, there are different complications, as well as the speed and degree of recovery.
Depending on the degree of illness, complete recovery can be expected in two or three weeks. Tuberculous meningitis is treated with long-term therapy with special antibiotics.
The hospital will provide you with all the necessary care, sleeping on the bed in dimmed room, large amounts of fluid (which you will receive with infusion if you are very ill), and medications for lowering the temperature and suppressing headache pain, all of which will help your body’s defense mechanisms to overcome viruses.