Meningitis Versus Meningococcal Disease: There Is a Difference!
Having meningitis doesn’t always mean you have meningococcal disease. And having a meningococcal disease doesn’t necessarily mean you have meningitis. Meningococcal disease is any illness caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. These illnesses are serious and include meningitis and bloodstream infections (septicemia).
Causes of Meningitis3
The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections. These infections usually get better without treatment. But, bacterial meningitis infections are very serious. They may result in death or brain damage, even if treated.
Meningitis may also be caused by:
- Chemical irritation
- Drug allergies
Many types of viruses can cause meningitis:
- Enteroviruses: These are viruses that also can cause intestinal illness.
- Herpes viruses: These are the same viruses that can cause cold sores and genital herpes. However, people with cold sores or genital herpes do not have a higher chance of developing herpes meningitis.
- Mumps and HIV viruses can cause aseptic meningitis.
- West Nile virus: This virus is spread by mosquito bites and has become a cause of viral meningitis in most of the United States.
How Bacterial Meningitis4 Spreads
Generally, the germs that cause bacterial meningitis spread from one person to another. Certain germs, such as Listeria monocytogenes, can spread through food.
How people spread the germs often depends on the type of bacteria. It is also important to know that people can carry these bacteria in or on their bodies without being sick. These people are “carriers.” Most carriers never become sick, but can still spread the bacteria to others.
Here are some of the most common examples of how people spread each type of bacteria to each other:
- Mothers can pass group B Streptococcus and Escherichia coli to their babies during labor and birth.
- People spread Hib and Streptococcus pneumoniae by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who breathe in the bacteria.
- People spread Neisseria meningitidis by sharing respiratory or throat secretions (saliva or spit). This typically occurs during close (coughing or kissing) or lengthy (living in the same household) contact.
- People can get Escherichia coli by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet.
People usually get sick from Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes by eating contaminated food.
How Viral Meningitis5 Spreads
If you have close contact with a person who has viral meningitis, you may become infected with the virus that made that person sick. However, you are not likely to develop meningitis. That’s because only a small number of people who get infected with the viruses that cause meningitis will actually develop viral meningitis.
Viral meningitis occurs more often than bacterial meningitis and is milder. It usually occurs in the late summer and early fall. It most often affects children and adults under age 30. Symptoms may include:
- A headache
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Slight fever
Bacterial meningitis is an emergency. You will need immediate treatment in a hospital. Symptoms usually come on quickly, and may include:
- Fever and chills, especially in newborns and children
- Mental status changes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
- A severe headache
- Stiff neck
Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
- Bulging fontanelles6 in babies.
- Decreased alertness
- Poor feeding or irritability in children
- Rapid breathing
- Unusual posture, with the head and neck, arched backward (opisthotonos)
Bacterial meningitis is very serious and can be deadly. Death can occur in as little as a few hours. Most people recover from meningitis. However, permanent disabilities (such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities) can result from the infection.
You cannot tell if you have bacterial or viral meningitis by how you feel. Your health care provider must find out the cause. Go to the hospital emergency department right away if you think you have symptoms of meningitis.
Exams and Tests
Your provider will examine you. This may show:
- Fast heart rate
- Mental status changes
- Stiff neck
If the provider thinks you have meningitis, a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) should be done to remove a sample of spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) for testing.
Other tests that may be done include:
- Blood culture
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan of the head
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial meningitis. Antibiotics do not treat viral meningitis. But antiviral medicine may be given to those with herpes meningitis.
Other treatments will include:
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms, such as brain swelling, shock, and seizures
Early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis are essential to prevent permanent neurological damage. Viral meningitis is usually not serious, and symptoms should disappear within two weeks with no lasting complications.
Without prompt treatment, meningitis may result in the following:
- Brain damage
- The buildup of fluid between the skull and brain (subdural effusion)
- Hearing loss
- A buildup of fluid inside the skull that leads to brain swelling (hydrocephalus)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
If you think that you or your child has symptoms of meningitis, get emergency medical help immediately. Early treatment is key to a good outcome.
Certain vaccines can help prevent some types of bacterial meningitis:
- Haemophilus vaccine (HiB vaccine) given to children helps
- Pneumococcal vaccine is given to children and adults
- Meningococcal vaccines are given to children and adults; some communities hold vaccination campaigns after an outbreak of meningococcal meningitis.
Household members and others in close contact with people who have meningococcal meningitis should receive antibiotics to prevent becoming infected.
Jay Harold hopes you enjoyed this post, “Meningitis: 5 Causes & 6 Symptoms to Know.” Please Share it and read more about Jay Harold here. Please take this advice from Muhammad Ali and give back to others. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”