Meninges are the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is an inflammation of these membranes, usually as a result of an infection, and is characterised by headache, high fever and neck stiffness. Some cases of meningitis can be life threatening, requiring urgent care while other forms of meningitis resolve on their own. Meningitis is often seen in children under the age of 5 but may develop later in life. Early diagnosis and treatment of meningitis is necessary to prevent seizures or permanent neurological damage.
Meningitis occurs mostly as a result of viral or bacterial infections, and rarely from a fungal infection. Bacterial meningitis is a serious condition that can be life-threatening, reaching the meninges through the blood stream from an ear or sinus infection, or trauma to the head. Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis and is usually self-limiting with milder symptoms. Meningitis may also have non-infectious causes such as chemical or drug reactions and certain types of autoimmune diseases and cancer.
The symptoms of meningitis may develop quickly from a few hours to days, including sudden fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, skin rash, confusion, drowsiness and seizures. Children may have a high fever, irritability, sluggishness, have a bulge on the soft spot of their head and do not feed well.
When you or your child present with symptoms of meningitis, your doctor will review the medical history and perform a thorough physical examination looking for signs of infection. Blood cultures are ordered to identify the infectious agent. Swelling or inflammation of the meninges may be detected on an X-ray or CT scan and a sample of cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds your brain and spinal cord may be analysed for a definitive diagnosis.
The primary course of treatment involves antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral medication depending on the causative agent. Ample bed rest and adequate fluid intake are recommended. Non-infectious meningitis is treated with cortisone medication or appropriate treatment based on the cause.