Understanding Meningitis In A Better Way

Meningitis is a serious infection which is characterized by the inflammation of meninges, protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It is a serious infection as this inflammation can cause significant damage to the brain and spinal cord. It is observed worldwide and a large number of cases are reported each year. 

There can be different causes of meningitis but it is generally caused by bacteria or viruses. 

Viral infections are common and usually are not fatal. It is a very serious type of infection as it is accompanied by mild symptoms. Some of the viruses that are commonly found to be the causes of meningitis include:

  • Enterovirus 
  • Herpes simplex virus 
  • Cytomegalovirus 
  • Human immunodeficiency virus 

On the other hand, bacterial infections varies from severe to fatal and are accompanied by a large number of symptoms and require prompt medical attention. There are different types of bacteria that can cause meningitis and some of the common causes of bacterial meningitis are as follows:

  • Neisseria meningitidis - The infection caused by this type of bacteria is of very serious form. Most often, people do not get sick and carry these bacteria in their throat. In some cases, this bacteria is passed on to the lining of the throat and causes the inflammation to meninges. This bacteria can be transmitted from one person to another through droplets of respiratory fluids of carriers which means that it can be spread through saliva during kissing, sharing food, coughing and sneezing. 
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b - It is another cause of meningitis and there was a time when it was the most common cause of the infection caused in meninges. It was common until the vaccination program started. 
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae - This bacteria is responsible for the occurrence of pneumococcal meningitis. It is believed that babies and people over the age of 65 are at the risk of suffering from this infection, therefore pneumococcal vaccine is often recommended to babies and older people. 

Although bacterial and viral infections are the most common causes of meningitis, sometimes people develop fungal meningitis and chemical meningitis. These are rare but people can experience it. Fungal meningitis occurs only when the immune system of a person is extremely weakened. Chemical meningitis occurs when the inflammation in the meninges happens due to any surgery, or any procedure on the brain or spine. 

Meningitis is very common among children and older people. Children below the age of 5 and people above the age of 65 are at high risk of developing meningitis.  There are two ways through which the bacteria reaches the central nervous system, hematogenous spread or direct extension from a contiguous site. In a newly born baby, the bacteria are acquired from nonsterile genital secretions. In children, organisms can colonize the upper respiratory tract. Meningitis occurs when the bacteria reach the bloodstream and meninges, multiples and causes inflammation. 

The occurrence of the symptoms of meningitis highly depends on the cause of it. It means the symptoms that occur in bacterial meningitis would differ from the symptoms that occur in viral meningitis. 

Bacterial Meningitis - When the cause of meningitis is bacteria the symptoms develop within a few hours or days after exposure to pathogens. Generally, it occurs within 3 to 7 days. Initially, symptoms may begin with fever, headache, and stiff neck and slowly it is accompanied by confusion, sensitivity to light, and vomiting. 

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Viral Meningitis - When the cause of meningitis is virus the symptoms that occur are usually mild and not fatal which does not last for 7 to 10 days. Children having viral meningitis experience symptoms like fever, changes in eating habits, and irritability, and adults may also experience symptoms like sensitivity to light and stiff neck. 

Meningitis can be a serious and life-threatening condition, not only due to the presence of the symptoms associated with it but also due to the complications or side effects associated with it.

1. Acquired sensorineural hearing loss 

Acquired sensorineural hearing loss is a disease that affects the ability of an individual to listen or hear anything. Bacterial meningitis is considered to be the most common cause of this hearing loss and this is because bacterial meningitis causes significant long term neurological damage to the auditory system. 

Generally, the hearing loss occurs at the early stage of bacterial meningitis and progresses rapidly within 48 hours after the onset of diseases. The sites of the auditory system that are believed to be affected due to meningitis include the cochlea, auditory nerve, auditory brain stem, and auditory cortex. Usually, meningitis related sensorineural hearing loss becomes stable after recovery but fluctuations in hearing loss may occur. 

2. Epilepsy 

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder which occurs due to recurring disruption in the usual activity of the brain. It is characterized by numbness, tingling, headache, fatigue, and unusual sensation. It can occur in any part of the brain and most often, it lasts for one to two minutes. The prevalence of epilepsy in developing countries is quite high and research believes that the increased frequency of the infections associated with central nervous system contributes to epilepsy.

Bacterial meningitis is one of the central nervous system infections that contribute to epilepsy. Meningitis associated seizures are usually of focal onset type with or without secondary generalization. Other types of seizures can also occur. 

3. Behavioral changes 

Tuberculosis meningitis is considered to be an important cause of neurological morbidity. Meningitis is strongly associated with the damage to the brain and different parts of the brain are responsible for the behavior of an individual and when the toxins are released in the body by the bacteria, it causes damage to the brain and causes symptoms related to neurological dysfunction. Along with behavioral inhibition, the internalized emotional disorder is also common in people having meningitis. 

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