Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord,
can be caused by infection with a bacterium or virus.
There are two main types of
Viral meningitis tends to appear in summer months and is generally much
less severe. Most people recover fully. Initially, vague flu-like symptoms occur
with fever and muscle aches.
Bacterial meningitis tends to be more severe, with a serious risk of complications
and death. Any type of bacteria can cause it, but in the UK the most common types
are meningococcal and pneumococcal bacteria.
The bacteria that cause meningitis vary
with a person's age, but meningococcal meningitis is the most common. Meningococcal
bacteria are very common and are usually carried harmlessly in people’s noses and
throats. It is only when the bacteria get into the wrong place that they cause disease.
septicaemia (when the bacteria get into the blood stream) is the more life-threatening
form of meningococcal disease. It can present alone or with meningitis, but is more
dangerous when it occurs alone and causes most deaths from meningococcal infection.
It typically presents with a pin-prick rash that doesn’t fade when pressed. This
rash can spread rapidly to form blotches all over the body.
Symptoms of Meningitis
In bacterial meningitis, symptoms can develop rapidly, often within hours, whereas
the symptoms of viral meningitis may take a couple of days to develop.
If you are
worried that someone has meningitis, or has a rash that doesn't fade when you press
a glass on it (the glass test), you must seek medical advice immediately.
in babies and small children include:
* Stiff body with jerky movements, or very floppy * Irritability, or dislike of being
handled * A shrill cry or unusual moaning * Refusal to feed * Tense or bulging fontanelle
(soft spot on head) * Pale blotchy skin * Rapid breathing * Fever * Lethargy
in adults and older children include:
* A rash that doesn’t fade under pressure (try pressing a glass
against the skin) * High fever * Severe headache * Stiff neck * Dislike of bright light *
Drowsiness * Confusion and irritability * Vomiting * Muscle pains, stomach cramps and
diarrhoea * Cold and pale hands and feet
Complications, especially in bacterial meningitis, include damage to hearing, damage
to other nerves in the body, brain abscesses, stroke, and collections of fluid on
or in the brain.
Although both viral and bacterial meningitis can occur at any age, babies and young
children are particularly at risk of meningococcal infection and all types of bacterial
meningitis. An additional high risk group is people aged between 15 and 24.
5% of people with meningococcal meningitis die from the disease. Treatment
Routine vaccination protects against some types of bacterial meningitis, including
those caused by one type of meningococcus (MenC), Haemophilus influenzae (Hib vaccine)
and invasive pneumococcal disease (PCV vaccine).
Vaccination against the mumps virus
(for example with the MMR vaccine given routinely to children) protects against viral
meningitis caused by mumps. People who have been in close contact with someone who
has bacterial meningitis may need to take antibiotics as a preventative measure.
diagnosis is confirmed using blood tests and a test called a lumbar puncture. A fine
needle is inserted into the person's spine to draw out fluid that can then be examined
in a laboratory for infectious organisms.
Treatment depends on the cause of the meningitis,
but intravenous antibiotics will be started immediately and continued if tests confirm
the bacterial form.
If other causes are diagnosed they will be treated accordingly.
Different medicines may be needed to control symptoms such as seizures.
treatment increase the risk of long-term damage. If you suspect meningitis, get urgent