What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation or swelling of the membrane (or meninges) that surround the brain and the spinal cord. This usually occurs due to an infection caused by bacteria, which is known as bacterial meningitis, or viruses, known as viral meningitis. Only rarely is an infection caused by parasites a fungus. There are basically three layers of membrane that surround the brain and the spinal cord, namely the dura mater, arachnoid mater and the pia mater.

When these layers of the membrane swell after the infection (bacterial or viral) has made its way into them, the body has great difficulty in fighting it off. Whereas in the rest of the body, the immune system produces and uses white blood cells to battle infections, these white blood cells do not exist in the cerebral spinal fluid, ehealthmd.com explains. Without the production of these white blood cells, the body is basically no longer able to control the growth of the infection. This usually means that the infection is able to get into the cerebral spinal fluid.

In order to fight these organisms, the brain sends out signals that cause the membranes to swell, preventing the central nervous system from functioning properly. This then causes pressure on the brain, and prevents it from functioning normally.

Symptoms:

According to mayoclinic.om, the symptoms of meningitis are as follows:

  • strong headache
  • nausea/vomiting
  • sleepiness, and having difficulty in waking up
  • sensitivity to light
  • stiff neck
  • not wanting to eat or drink
  • seizures
  • sometimes rashes may show up

Because very young children, and even newborns are at a high risk of getting meningitis, it is important to know how to read their symptoms. These include:

  • Constant crying
  • Irritability
  • Extremely tired
  • Baby’s body and neck are stiff
  • Refusing food

Diagnosis:

If you think you might have symptoms indicative of meningitis, you should go see a doctor immediately. He will most likely perform a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) in which he extracts fluid from the spinal cord. Tests conducted in a laboratory can then determine whether the mengines are infected.

Who is most at risk of getting it?

  • Children up to the age of five
  • Young adults aged between 17 and 25, especially those who live in close living quarters
  • Adults over the age of 55
  • People with weak or not fully functional immune systems
  • People who work with animals, as listeria, a bacteria that can cause meningitis, can be transmitted

Find out more about the causes of meningitis.

Treatment:

Meningitis is usually treated with antibiotics. These are introduced into the body intravenously. These antibiotics are usually administered over the course of at least one week. This, of course, is only useful for bacterial meningitis: antibiotics do not work on viruses, and therefore patients suffering viral meningitis are left to let the illness run its course.

Nearly everyone who has viral meningitis will overcome it, wheras only 70 to 80 percent of those diagnosed with bacterial meningitis will be cured.

The longer it is left untreated, the more severe the complications of this illness are. The longer it is left untreated, the higher the risk of permanent neurological damage (sight loss, hearing loss, brain damage, learning disability, paralysis) is.

Celebrities who have battled meningitis include Brad Pitt, who had a bout with viral meningitis in 2005.

Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Symptoms_of_Meningitis.png; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brad_Pitt_palm_film_festival.jpg, By Maggie.

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