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Meningitis is an infection in the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Swelling from this infection can harm or destroy nerve cells and cause bleeding in the brain. The causes of spinal meningitis are most often a bacterial or viral infection. These infections are known as bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis, respectively. Bacterial meningitis has a high death rate if left untreated, so it requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of Meningitis
The symptoms of meningitis can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days. Common symptoms in people over the age of 2 include high fever, headache, and stiff neck. Signs of meningitis may also include distinctive rashes in some forms of the disease. More severe symptoms include nausea, vomiting, confusion, and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms of meningitis may be absent or difficult to detect.
Making a Meningitis Diagnosis
In order to make a diagnosis of meningitis, the doctor will:
- Ask a number of questions to review the patient's recent activities (such as any recent travel or contact with ill people)
- Perform a physical exam
- Possibly order various tests.
Two painless, noninvasive imaging procedures are routinely used to reach a meningitis diagnosis -- CT scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatment Options for Meningitis
Timely and appropriate treatment is vital for anyone suspected of having the meningitis. The treatment for bacterial meningitis involves strong doses of intravenous antibiotics. Viruses cannot be killed by antibiotics; therefore, most treatments for viral meningitis do not involve medications to kill the virus. Depending on the source of infection, infected sinuses may need to be drained as part of the treatment for meningitis.
Vaccine for Meningitis
A meningitis vaccine is available for some types of the disease. The vaccine has been developed to prevent meningitis due to Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). The Hib meningitis vaccine is recommended for all children 2 months of age to 5 years of age. Other examples of meningitis vaccines include the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) and the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4). A newly-licensed pneumococcal meningitis vaccine (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) appears to be effective in infants for the prevention of pneumococcal infections.
Research on Meningitis
Current meningitis research efforts include:
- Investigating new chemotherapy-based treatment for neoplastic meningitis
- Gaining a better understanding of how the central nervous system responds to inflammation
- Studying the role of T cells (blood cells involved in immune system response) in suppressing infection in the brain.
Other scientists involved with meningitis research hope to define, at a molecular level, how certain viruses overcome the body's defense mechanism and interact with the person's cells.
Cochlear Implants and Meningitis
Researchers have seen that people with cochlear implants may be more likely to get bacterial meningitis, especially pneumococcal meningitis. The pneumococcal meningitis vaccine is usually recommended for people with these implants.
Related Health Channels
Types of Meningitis
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