Meningitis: the facts you need to know

Meningitis: the facts you need to know

You’ve most likely heard of meningitis – but what is it exactly? It’s a serious disease which can affect anyone, at any time. It causes the meninges to become inflamed, leading to serious complications to develop in the infected individual. Research suggests that about eight million people across the globe were reported to have suffered from meningitis in the year 2015, and 370,000 of those cases resulted in death.

What are the meninges?

The brain is a very sensitive, delicate organ, and perhaps the most important component of the human body. It’s responsible for controlling and managing every single function performed by the body, including our thoughts, emotions, our ability to move, taste, touch and feel – everything. It’s our control centre.

Given just how vital the brain is, nature has designed protective mechanisms for the brain in the form of membranes, known as meninges. The meninges consist of three layers, namely the outermost layer called the dura mater, the middle layer called the arachnoid mater and the innermost layer called pia mater. Meningitis sees these becoming inflamed, caused by a number of reasons.

What are the types and causes of meningitis?

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a very serious type of meningitis, particularly in newborns and young children. There are quite a few bacteria which can be responsible for causing this disease, including Haemophilus Influenza type b, Streptococcus Pneumoniae, Neisseria Meningitides, and more. These bacteria can be spread through the consumption of contaminated food, coughing, sneezing, and physical contact with an infected baby.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis is more common and less severe when compared to bacterial meningitis. Many viruses cause this disease, including entero-viruses, mumps, measles and Varicella-Zoster. These viruses might be transmitted through the secretions of the mouth, nose and eyes, contamination by faeces,and other unhygienic practices. So always makes sure to follow a proper hygiene for your baby e.g. being careful while changing nappies, generally cleaning your baby properly etc.

Fungal Meningitis

Fungal meningitis is a rare form of meningitis. This type is caused through an invasion of the blood by microorganisms known as fungi. The fungi can infect anyone with a weak immune system, such as pregnant women and babies. These microorganisms usually spread when an individual comes into contact with their spores, either through breathing them, or eating food contaminated by the spores.

Parasitic Meningitis

Parasitic meningitis is an extremely rare and lethal form of meningitis. This usually occurs when an individual comes into direct contact with a parasite known as Naegleria Fowleri, which is found in places such as lakes, rivers, industrial areas and unsupervised swimming pools.

What are the signs and symptoms of meningitis?

There’s a variety of different symptoms a baby suffering from meningitis usually shows,including fever, headache, stiffness of the neck, nausea, vomiting, semi-consciousness and extreme sensitivity to loud noise or light. A rash that doesn’t disappear when pressed may also be present. However,in some babies and young children, the symptoms are usually atypical, as they often present with complaints such as irritability, poor feeding and appearing drowsy all the time.

How is meningitis diagnosed?

Over the past few decades, doctors have developed quite a few ways to diagnose a case of meningitis. A few of these methods include reviewing the symptoms someone presents with, or taking blood test to look for signs of inflammation. Blood tests can also be used to look for the microorganism which might be responsible for the disease.

However, the most reliable test for detecting meningitis is alumbar puncture: a large needle inserted at the base of the spine to extract cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to analyse it. A person suffering from meningitis usually has elevated pressure in their skull due to accumulated cerebrospinal fluid – fluid from their spine and skull.

In the case of bacterial meningitis, the CSF shows increased levels of protein, but decreased levels of glucose. On the other hand, in viral meningitis, the CSF shows slightly different results, with raised levels of both protein as well glucose.

How do you treat meningitis?

Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening disease. The treatment of meningitis slightly varies according to the microorganism responsible for causing the disease. It is very important that the parents of a child with a suspected case of meningitis seeks medical attention as soon as possible, and for doctors to act promptly by diagnosing and subsequently treating the condition.

Medications such as antibiotics and anti-fungal drugs are prescribed for bacterial and fungal meningitis respectively. There is no specific drug given for viral meningitis.

In addition to the medication, the patient is also provided with supportive care, including paracetamol for the fever and steroids for the inflammation.