Meningitis: Types, Symptoms, and Causes

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A lot of people suffer from meningitis around the world. This condition is also common in South-East Asian countries such as India. There is a lack of awareness as to the deadly effects of this condition and about the ways, one should face it. In this article, we will discuss about meningitis.

Meningitis

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is basically an infection caused to the meninges that are the three protective membranes that insulate the spinal cord and the brain. These fluid based structures can get infected like any other body part. When the infection is severe it can cause severe pain and other symptoms that can make the patient very uncomfortable.

In this article, we will be discussing the types of meningitis and causes of it. We will also list out the various symptoms that can be an indicator of this condition and will help in understanding what is the exact cause behind the infection.

Causes of Meningitis:

In order to understand what is meningitis, you should first understand what causes it. There are various infectious agents that can cause this condition. Some major causes are listed below.

1. Bacteria:

Bacteria is one of the most common infectious agents that can cause meningitis. There are various bacteria that have the ability to infect your meninges. Some of the most active bacteria associated with meningitis are Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Listeria monocytogenes and Group B streptococcus.

2. Virus:

A virus is yet another infectious agent that can cause this condition. Viral infections are comparatively less harmful than bacterial, still, it poses a severe threat to the entire health of the patient. One of the most common viruses that can cause this is non-polio enteroviruses, Mumps, Influenza and Measles viruses are also known to cause meningitis. The varicella-zoster virus which is the causal virus for chicken-pox also has the ability to cause this condition.

3. Fungus:

Meningitis caused due to fungal infections are very rare. This is due to the reason that by the time the fungus reaches the spinal cord or the brain, your immune system usually flushes it out. Due to this reason, this sort of infection is usually seen in patients with a compromised or weak immune system.

4. Parasites:

Meningitis caused due to parasites are very rare. However, there are certain instances when these parasites crawl into your body through infected food or other medium and can cause an infection to your meninges. Some common parasites that cause this infection are Angiostrongylus cantonensis and Gnathostoma spinigerum.

5. Amoeba:

Amoeba can also cause this infection. It’s not all Amoeba that is capable of showing these levels of infection however certain microscopic traits such as Naegleria Fowleri is capable of causing primary amoebic meningoencephalitis(PAM). PAM infections are usually very fatal and can cost the patient his or her life.

Some other factors that can cause meningitis are :

  • Cancers
  • Lupus
  • Drug Interaction
  • Head Injury or haemorrhage
  • Brain Surgery

Types of Meningitis:

Based on the factors that cause the infection which leads to this condition, meningitis is classified into different types. The list of different types is given below.

1. Bacterial Meningitis:

Bacterial meningitis occurs when the infection of the meninges is caused by bacteria. This is one of the most fatal types of infection that can affect us. Bacterial meningitis has the ability to lead to eventual death in a matter of just a few hours, and due to this reason getting treatment as early as possible is very important if you are affected with this condition.

There are various bacteria that can cause this type of infection, the risk factors depend based on the age of the patient as you can see in the table below:

S. NoStage Of LifeBacteria that can Cause Infection
1NewbornsGroup B Streptococcus, Listeria Monocytogenes, Escherichia Coli, Streptococcus Pneumoniae
2Children and InfantsNeisseria meningitidis, Group B Streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
3Teenagers and Young AdultsStreptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis
4Adults and ElderlyListeria monocytogenes, Neisseria meningitidis, Group B Streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

2. Viral Meningitis:

This type of disease is caused due to virus infections. This is considered to be the most common form of meningitis as viruses can affect you pretty easily due to its quality to mutate. Viral meningitis is less severe compared to bacterial, however, if left untreated it can cause serious issues to your health. Most babies whose immune system is still in the developmental stages are more prone to this type of infection.

Some common viruses that can cause this condition are non-polio enteroviruses, Measles Virus, Arboviruses, Influenza virus etc. These can be spread through multiple mediums which is the major reason why viral meningitis is considered to be the most widespread form of the disease.

3. Fungal Meningitis:

This type of meningitis is considered to be fairly rare and happens mainly due to the infection spreading through the blood and the spinal cord. Most people with a healthy immune system is usually able to fight this sort of infection. But, when it comes to people who have a weakened immune system due to other factors such as HIV or other immune system suppressing conditions there is a higher chance that fungal infections could become severe.

The transmission of fungal infection happens in different methods based on the type of fungus. Some of the common fungi that can lead to fungal meningitis are Cryptococcus, Histoplasma, Blastomyces and Coccidioides. Many of the strong fungal strains come from the soil that is most often contaminated by bird droppings.

4. Parasitic Meningitis:

There are several parasites that are capable of causing meningitis. The effect that parasites can have in making the count of eosinophils high makes parasitic meningitis extremely dangerous. Certain parasites have the ability to cause conditions such as eosinophilic meningitis and eosinophilic meningoencephalitis. Parasitic infections are considered to be very rare when compared to bacterial and viral types.

Some of the most common parasites that are capable of causing eosinophilic meningitis are Angiostrongylus cantonensis, Baylisascaris procyonis, Gnathostoma spinigerum. All these parasites spread through different mediums, but unlike virus or bacteria, this form of infection can only occur by ingesting some form of undercooked or uncooked food.

5. Amoebic Meningitis:

Since amoeba is also considered as a parasite, Primary Amoebic Meningitis(PAM) is considered to be a rare form of parasitic meningitis. The main cause behind primary amoebic meningitis is an amoeba called Naegleria Fowleri. This single-celled living organism usually enters the human body through contaminated water.

Symptoms of Meningitis:

The symptoms differ based on the age of the person affected and the type of meningitis he or she is affected. In the below table’s you can find the major symptoms for each type of meningitis.

  • Bacterial Meningitis: This is usually identified with the sudden onset of symptoms, the main symptoms that are associated with bacterial meningitis are listed in the table below.
S.NoBacterial Meningitis Symptoms
1Nausea
2Increased Light Sensitivity
3Vomiting
4Stiff Neck
5Altered Mental Status
6Purple discolouration on the skin
7Fever with chills
8Sleepiness
9Lethargy
10Irritability
  • Viral Meningitis: The early signs of meningitis is somewhat similar to that of bacterial meningitis. The severity of viral infections are comparatively low when compared to bacterial infections, some of the main symptoms based on age are listed in the below table.
S.NoViral Meningitis Symptoms (Infants)
1Reduced Appetite
2Lethargy
3Drowsiness
4Fever
5Irritability
S. NoViral Meningitis Symptoms (Adults)
1Headache
2Stiff Neck
3Fever
4Seizures
5Lethargy
6Sleepiness
7Nausea
8Vomiting
9Increased light sensitivity
10Very low appetite
  • Fungal Meningitis: This is diagnosed by examining the cerebrospinal fluid of the patient. Some of the main signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis are listed in the table below.
S.NoFungal Meningitis Symptoms
1Fever
2Stiff Neck
3Vomiting with Nausea
4Increased Light Sensitivity
5Altered Mental Status
6Headache

Parasitic and Amoebic meningitis share the same symptoms of classic meningitis, except when it comes to primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, the symptoms tend to differ after the initial stages. During the initial stages the symptoms of PAM will be similar to that of bacterial meningitis, however, during the later stages, the patient can be seen showing symptoms including confusion, hallucinations, loss of balance and lack of attention to people or surroundings. Mostly if left untreated PAM can lead to death in a span of 7 days.

If you start to feel any of the above-mentioned symptoms it’s advisable that you consult a doctor as soon as possible. There are different types of meningitis as you can see from the above sections and only a proper diagnostic procedure can determine what type of meningitis is affecting you. The treatment for this is always determined based on the type or cause of the infection you have.

FAQ’s:

1. What causes meningitis?

Meningitis is caused due to the infection that is caused to the meninges due to various foreign infectious agents. The main causes are bacterial, fungal or viral infections travelling through the bloodstream and spinal cord and affecting the meninges.

2. Can meningitis kill me?

Yes, certain types of the condition are very rapid in progression, if left untreated it can cause the death of the patient in a short period of time.

3. Can meningitis be treated?

Yes, it can be treated, in case of bacterial meningitis, the patient needs to be admitted as soon as possible to avoid any damage to the brain tissue.

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