Project Description

Meningitis Fast Facts

About 1.2 million cases of bacterial meningitis occur worldwide each year. Between 600 and 1,000 of those cases occur in the United States

The fatality rate for bacterial meningitis in the US is approximately 10-15%. When bacterial meningitis goes untreated, the fatality rate can be as high as 70%.

About 20% of people who survive bacterial meningitis are left with permanent, severe complications.

More than 20% of the cases of bacterial meningitis are in young people between the ages of 11 and 24.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. The inflammation is most commonly caused by an infection and can result in swelling and tissue damage in the brain and the spinal cord.

Meningitis can be caused by viral infections, bacterial infections, fungal infections, parasitic infections, and some other noninfectious conditions. Most cases of meningitis are caused by viruses and are not usually life-threatening. Bacterial meningitis, however, can be much more serious, and if left untreated, may be fatal in a matter of days or even hours.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis is the most common form of the disease in the United States. This form of meningitis usually produces relatively mild symptoms, and in most cases, it resolves on its own without treatment. Viruses that may cause the disease include herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps, and West Nile virus.

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a very serious form of the disease that occurs when bacteria enter the body and travel through the bloodstream to the brain or the spinal cord. When these infections go untreated, they can worsen very quickly and cause life-threatening complications. Bacteria that commonly cause meningitis include streptococcus pneumoniae, neisseria meningitidis, haemophilus influenzae, and listeria monocytogenes.

Other Forms of Meningitis

Fungal meningitis is uncommon, but like bacterial meningitis, it can produce life-threatening complications. Some microscopic parasitic organisms can also cause meningitis. Meningitis may also develop as a result of inflammatory diseases such as Lyme disease, some types of cancer, allergies, drug reactions, or reactions to chemical exposure.

Symptoms of Meningitis

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • High fever
  • Severe, unexplained headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Lethargy or sleepiness
  • Problems with concentration or confusion
  • Problems with walking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizure

Symptoms of meningitis in infants can be more difficult to spot. They include:

  • Inconsolable crying
  • High fever
  • Irritability
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Neck or body stiffness
  • A bulge in the soft spot on top of the head

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Meningitis?

The bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis usually enter the body elsewhere and travel to the meninges through the bloodstream. Many of these organisms cause other types of problems, such as respiratory diseases, in other parts of the body, but they become especially dangerous when they infect the tissues around the central nervous system.

Many of the agents that cause meningitis are infectious, meaning that they can be transferred from person to person through close contact. Some forms of the disease are especially problematic where people live in close proximity, such as in college dorms or schools. They may be transmitted when people share eating utensils, are exposed to infected peoples’ coughs or sneezes, or are in close physical contact (e.g. kissing).

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Meningitis Hereditary?

For bacterial or viral meningitis to occur, the patient has to come into contact with the bacteria or virus that causes it. But merely being exposed to the infectious agents doesn’t mean that a person will develop meningitis. Some people are exposed to the bacterial or viral pathogens with no consequences, while others develop a severe form of the disease. Researchers have looked into the possibility that inherited factors might make some people more susceptible to severe meningitis.

A 2010 study conducted at Imperial College London compared the genes of 1,500 people who had contracted meningitis caused by meningococcal bacteria to the genes of thousands of healthy people. The researchers found several different genetic characteristics that were common in meningitis patients. These characteristics were associated with the ability to fight bacterial infections, suggesting that inherited genetic traits might put an individual at a higher risk of developing meningitis.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Meningitis Detected?

Meningitis can quickly develop into a life-threatening illness unless the infection is treated promptly. The longer treatment is delayed, the more likely it is that the patient could die or suffer permanent, severe complications. It’s important to seek medical care at the first signs of the illness.

See a doctor if you or loved one shows symptoms such as:

  • High fever
  • Severe, unexplained headache that won’t go away
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or disorientation

It’s also important to see a doctor if you, your child, or a loved one has been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with meningitis. Precautionary antibiotic treatment may be recommended to prevent an infection.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Meningitis Diagnosed?

When a doctor suspects meningitis, they will conduct a physical exam to look for symptoms of the disease. The doctor will probably also ask questions to determine if the patient is likely to have been exposed to an infectious agent that could cause meningitis.

If the symptoms and medical history indicate that meningitis is possible, the doctor may order further tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests. These tests will look for evidence that meningitis-causing organisms (especially bacteria) is present in the patient’s blood.
  • Imaging tests. These tests–which could include x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)–will look for signs of inflammation or swelling in or around the head.
  • Spinal tap/lumbar puncture. This test examines the fluid of the spinal column and is the most definitive test for meningitis. The test measures the fluid’s levels of sugar, protein, and white blood cells, and it may also indicate the type of bacteria present.

PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR MORE INFORMATION.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Meningitis Treated?

Treatment of bacterial meningitis involves administering intravenous antibiotics to combat bacterial infection. Sometimes a combination of multiple antibiotics may be called for. Corticosteroids may also be used to control swelling and decrease the risk of permanent tissue damage.

Viral meningitis doesn’t respond to antibiotics, but this form of the disease typically resolves by itself within a few weeks. Recommended treatment usually includes plenty of rest and fluids, as well as over-the-counter medications to treat any pain or inflammation.

Treatments for other types of meningitis are focused on controlling the underlying cause of the inflammation. The treatments may include antibiotics, antivirals, or corticosteroids, depending on the cause.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Does Meningitis Progress?

Untreated bacterial meningitis, even if not fatal, can cause permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system. This damage to sensitive nervous-system tissue can result in life-long neurological complications, including:

  • Memory problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Seizures
  • Motor problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney problems

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Does Meningitis Progress?

Untreated bacterial meningitis, even if not fatal, can cause permanent damage to the brain and central nervous system. This damage to sensitive nervous-system tissue can result in life-long neurological complications, including:

  • Memory problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Seizures
  • Motor problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney problems

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Meningitis Caregiver Tips

Children are especially susceptible to meningitis, so it’s important for parents to educate themselves about the disease.

  • Know the symptoms of meningitis. Learn the early warning signs of meningitis, and be prepared to seek medical help if you see them. Prompt treatment is vital in the case of bacterial meningitis.
  • Vaccinate your child. The most common causes of bacterial meningitis can be prevented by following the immunization schedule recommended by your doctor.
  • Teach your children good hygiene habits. Make sure they know the importance of washing their hands often and warn them not to share eating utensils and similar items with their friends. Meningitis can also be a problem in college dorms, where lots of young people live in close quarters. Be sure your college-age children know that the hygiene guidelines are important for them to follow, too.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Meningitis Brain Science

One active area of meningitis research concerns the way infection-causing bacteria enter the central nervous system. Usually, a system called the blood-brain barrier works to prevent harmful substances and organisms from entering the brain via the blood. Somehow, though, meningitis-causing bacteria manage to get through the barrier and affect the meninges. Researchers have determined that some bacteria produce sticky proteins that help them penetrate the barrier, but exactly where and how the bacteria get into the central nervous system is still unclear.

Scientists are also trying to gain a better understanding of how bacteria induce inflammation and how the toxic action of the bacteria produces permanent damage to nerve cells.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Meningitis Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Meningitis.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Meningitis, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Meningitis and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as Etiology, Pathogenesis, and Natural History of Idiopathic CD4+ Lymphocytopenia, Immunogenicity and Safety of a Quadrivalent Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine When Administered Concomitantly With Routine Pediatric Vaccines in Healthy Infants and Toddlers in the USand Next Generation Sequencing Detection of Lyme Disease.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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