Why is Meningitis a Life-Threatening Medical Emergency?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain. While some types of meningitis cause just mild, flu like symptoms, others are serious enough to cause death within several hours.

Some children, although not becoming ill, may carry the virus causing meningitis, contagious to others through respiratory secretions.

The most common types of the disease are viral and bacterial, with different strains of each resulting from multiple causes.

Since each type can begin with the same symptoms, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the central nervous system, known collectively as the meninges. Meningitis is a disease involving inflammation, or irritation, of the meninges.

Most cases of meningitis are caused by microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites, that spread into the blood and into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Meningitis often begins like the flu does.

The major meningitis symptoms include a severe headache that will not go away, stiffness in the neck, stiffness in the upper back, pain in one or both eyes, or an aversion to light, nausea, or the feeling of an upset stomach, vomiting, achy body, fever, sleepy feeling, or the feeling that you just cannot wake up completely, confusion, or a feeling of just not being with it.

Viral meningitis is the most common form. Usually viruses that enter your body through your mouth before going to your brain and multiplying cause it. You can find these viruses in the mucus, saliva and feces.

Other viruses that may cause meningitis include: Chickenpox, Flu, Mumps, HIV and Genital herpes.

Meningitis that is caused by bacteria, while infectious is not so easy to transmit.

What makes bacterial meningitis contagious?

Intimate contact, such as kissing, is necessary in order to spread this disease.

It is also possible to infect others by sharing utensils, drinking from the same glass or bottle and by touching areas contaminated by the respiratory secretions of an infected individual.

It cannot be transmitted through breathing the same air as an infected person or by merely passing by someone.

Meningitis can be very serious. As a matter of fact certain types of bacterial meningitis can be rapidly fatal without early treatment.

It is one of the conditions considered to be a medical emergency that is related to infectious diseases.

The brain and spinal cord have two protective coverings - the outer bone part consisting of the skull and spinal cord, and the inner three layers of membranes called the meninges.

Classic symptoms are: fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion and lethargy.

Patients can also be intolerant to light and loud noises. A generalized rash with small raised red and purple nodules could signify the presence of meningococcal meningitis, the most deadly form of the disease.

Physicians have been trained in medical school to recognize this characteristic rash and to consider it a warning that the patient's life is in danger.

Many of the bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis are fairly common and are typically associated with other routine illnesses.

Bacteria and viruses that infect the skin, urinary system, gastrointestinal or respiratory tract can spread by the bloodstream to the meninges through cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that circulates in and around the spinal cord.

The most common infectious causes of meningitis vary according to an individual's age, habits, living environment, and health status.

While nonbacterial types of meningitis are more common, bacterial meningitis is the more potentially life-threatening.

Three bacterial agents are responsible for about 80% of all bacterial meningitis cases.

These bacteria are Haemophilus influenzae type b, Neisseria meningitidis (causing meningococcal meningitis), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (causing pneumococcal meningitis).

If bacterial meningitis is suspected, physicians will begin antibiotics even before the results of the spinal fluid analysis are completed.

In this bacterial strain, particularly with meningococcal disease, every hour counts. In general, there are no medicines to treat this viral strain, with a few rare exceptions.

Patients with this disease often need support care to manage complications of the disease, such as low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, seizures, brain swelling and coma. Fortunately, these events are uncommon.

If meningitis is suspected, medical advice should be sought immediately. Because some of the early symptoms might be similar to other conditions, a high level of suspicion is required, especially with children.

Prevention is better than cure! Effective vaccines are now available against some types of meningitis.

Acute bacterial meningitis requires prompt treatment with intravenous antibiotics to ensure recovery and reduce the risk of complications.