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Meningitis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About meningitis

Meningitis is characterised by the inflammation and infection of the meninges, which are the protective coverings of brain and spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord are enveloped by CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) which usually develops some immunological cells in it during infection or inflammation of the brain tissues. Meningitis can be of various types depending upon the causative factor. It can be caused by virus, bacteria or chemical toxins.

Meningitis: Incidence, age and sex

Meningitis may be seen in any age but it is more common in children and young adults. It usually occurs with equal prevalence in both men and women.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis: Diagnosis

The most common and prominent symptom of meningitis is headache which may be followed by neck stiffness and fever. It may further progress to mental confusion, behavioural disturbances and even loss of memory. Sometimes the affected individual becomes increasingly sensitive to light (photophobia). Occasionally, an individual with meningitis may exhibit vomiting, drowsiness, seizures, paralysis of the limb muscles or even unconsciousness. The individual needs immediate medical attention when such symptoms are noted.

It is advisable to consult a neurologist without delay who will conduct a comprehensive neurological examination. Other investigations like CT and MRI scans and microscopic examination and culture of the cerebrospinal fluid will help in establishing the diagnosis. The cerebrospinal fluid is collected by a process called lumbar puncture.

Causes and prevention of meningitis

Meningitis is a serious infection which has various causative factors like virus, bacteria, parasites, fungi and chemical toxins. The most common cause of meningitis, especially in children, is viral infection. Viruses such as enterovirus or herpes virus are implicated in causing meningitis. In fact, enterovirus is the commonest virus which causes viral meningitis. Bacteria are the second most common cause of meningitis and such bacteria include meningococcus, pneumococcus, staphylococcus and mycobacterium. Parasites namely Gnathostomiasis, Baylisascariasis or Angiostrongylus are usually the offending agents causing eosinophilic meningitis. Fungal infection can lead to cryptococcal meningitis which is a rare occurrence.

Viral meningitis is a mild infection which usually resolves on its own, within a few days. On the other hand, bacterial meningitis is a serious illness which requires immediate and intensive management. Certain vaccines like haemophilus vaccine, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and meningococcal vaccine may help in preventing certain bacterial meningitis.

Meningitis: Complications

Sometimes meningitis may lead to irreversible damage to the brain tissue resulting in impairment of vital functions like hearing, vision, language, memory loss or even personality changes. Bacterial meningitis has more chances of developing complications as compared with viral meningitis.

Meningitis: Treatment

It is recommended to consult a neurologist to discuss the effective management of meningitis. The main goal of treatment is to provide symptomatic relief and supportive care till the infection subsides. It is essential to provide complete rest and maintain adequate hydration of the affected individual. Medications like anti-convulsants may be prescribed if the individual has seizures. Antimicrobial medications are prescribed in cases of bacterial meningitis. Hospitalization and intensive care may be considered in severe infection. The prognosis of meningitis depends upon the underlying cause. For example, viral meningitis is self-limiting and carries a good prognosis whereas eosinophilic meningitis has a high fatality rate. Early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis may prevent any long-lasting complications.