Meningitis

Specialty of Paediatrics

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, which are the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

There are different types of meningitis but the most common is viral meningitis. It occurs when a virus enters the body through the nose or mouth and travels to the brain.

Bacterial meningitis is rare but can be very serious, even lethal. Although it can be contracted by anybody, it usually affects children and in people who have difficulties in fighting infections.

What are the symptoms?

All types of meningitis are characterised by the presence of a meningeal syndrome, which includes symptoms such as headache, vomiting, high fever, neck stiffness and general feeling of discomfort. These symptoms usually appear three to six days after exposure to the bacteria or virus.

Causes of meningitis

Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, the former being more common and much less serious than bacterial meningitis. Several different types of virus and bacteria can cause meningitis, and they can be spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, and sharing utensils such as toothbrushes or knives and forks.

Can it be prevented?

Meningitis can be prevented in some cases with vaccines.

What is the treatment of meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, and patients are kept in hospital in all cases. In viral meningitis, hospitalisation is only necessary in serious cases. In mild cases of viral meningitis, the meningitis generally gets better on its own.

In bacterial meningitis, in addition to antibiotics, oxygen may be provided in cases where the patient is having difficulty breathing. Fluids may be administered intravenously to prevent dehydration, and if there is swelling on the brain, steroid medication may be administered in some cases. Treatment can go on for several weeks.

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