Meningitis is caused by different viruses and bacteria, though most of them are caused by viral infections. Luckily, those caused by viral infections can easily be treated with antibiotics. However they might also be caused by a bacterial infection, chemical irritation, drug allergies, parasites, tumors, fungi or the West Nile Virus. Some people are more susceptible to getting meningitis including those that dont get all of their required vaccinations, being a child under 5 since it is most common with younger children, living in a community environment such as at college in the dorm or military base, being pregnancy or having a lowered immune system from certain drugs, diabetes, alcoholism or AIDS.
There are a variety of signs and symptoms to look out for if you think you might have meningitis. They include a high fever that comes on suddenly, stiff neck, severe headache, nausea or vomiting, confusion, difficulty concentrating, seizures, light sensitivity, difficulty waking up, a lack of interest in eating or drinking or a skin rash. In newborns and infants, signs include crying constantly, high fever, irritability, excessive sleeping, not eating sufficiently, sluggishness or inactivity, stiffness in their neck or a bulging of their soft spot.
You should see a doctor right away if you are experiencing a high fever, a severe headache that doesnt go away, vomiting, confusion or a very stiff neck that comes on suddenly. With bacterial meningitis, you will have many of the same symptoms as well as fever and chills and mental or behavioral differences; get medical attention immediately if you show these symptoms. To diagnose meningitis, it will usually start with a physical exam to look for a rapid heart rate, high temperature, mental status changes and a stiff neck. Tests include a lumbar puncture procedure, also called a spinal tap, x-ray of your chest, CT scan or MRI of your head and a blood culture.
If you suspect you have a form of meningitis, seek medical help immediately. The cause of meningitis will determine what the treatment is going to be. For bacterial meningitis, antibiotics are the best course of treatment. However they wont do anything for viral meningitis. For viral meningitis, the treatment is usually antiviral medications to cure the meningitis. Additional treatments that might be used are fluids through an IV to treat the dehydration that is often associated with the infection and medications to improve seizures, shock or brain swelling. If you are showing signs and symptoms of meningitis, it is important that you consult your doctor immediately.
A variety of severe complications can arise from lack of treatment including brain damage, a buildup of fluid between the brain and skull, permanent hearing loss, hydrocephalus and seizures. The best way to prevent meningitis is with the Haemophilus vaccine which is given to children during their normal schedule of vaccinations. There is also another routine vaccination that can prevent meningitis, called the meningococcal vaccination for children 11-12. Meningitis is also contagious so by avoiding contact with others who have it, you can prevent it.