Signs And Symptoms Of Meningitis

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Some types of meningitis are contagious, while others are not. Although anyone can develop meningitis, one of the main risk factors is having a compromised immune system due to diabetes, chemotherapy or having your spleen removed. Because the condition can be life threatening, signs and symptoms of meningitis should never be ignored.

What Is Meningitis?

The meninges are tissues, which surround the brain and spinal cord. If the tissue becomes infected or inflamed, the condition is referred to as meningitis. Some types of meningitis are easily spread, especially among people living in close quarters, such as students in a dorm or residents in a nursing home. If meningitis is suspected, a diagnosis is usually made through a spinal tab, which involves removing spinal fluid through a needle inserted into the back. The spinal fluid is analyzed and tested for the presence of a virus, bacteria or fungus.

Differences In The Types Of Meningitis

The main types of meningitis include bacterial, viral and fungal meningitis. Although it’s considered rare, the parasite naegleria fowleri can also lead to the condition. In some instances, meningitis can also develop as a result of trauma to the brain, cancer or after brain surgery.

In addition to the cause, there are other important differences in types of meningitis. For example, viral meningitis is usually much less severe than meningitis caused by bacteria.  Although there are a few different viruses which can lead to meningitis, most commonly it is caused by enteroviruses, which can be transmitted from person to person. Although anyone can develop viral meningitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it occurs most often in children under five and those with a weakened immune system. Viral meningitis usually does not require treatment and resolves in a few weeks.

Bacterial meningitis differs from viral in a few significant ways. It tends to be much more serious than the viral form and can be life threatening. Treatment always includes antibiotics. This form of meningitis can be contagious.

Fungal meningitis develops if fungus enters the spinal fluid or brain through the bloodstream. Fungal meningitis is considered rare, but can be life threatening if not treated with an antifungal medication. Fungal meningitis is not contagious.

Meningitis Symptoms In Adults

Although different types of meningitis tend to have similar symptoms, the severity will often vary depending on the cause. Symptoms may develop over a few days, but they can also come on suddenly and progress fast. Bacterial meningitis usually causes the most severe symptoms and the fastest progression.

Two of the most common symptoms include severe headache and a stiff neck. The neck may be so stiff it is difficult to lower your chin to your chest. Fever is also common and can develop with all causes of meningitis, but is often higher with bacterial meningitis. Additional symptoms include nausea, vomiting and fatigue. A purple or red rash may also develop anywhere on the body. Some people also become sensitive to light. As symptoms progress, confusion, difficulty staying awake and seizures are possible.

Meningitis Symptoms In Infants

Symptoms of meningitis in infants may be a little different than in older children and adults. For instance, according to the Meningitis Foundation of American, although a high fever may occur in infants, it is not always present. In addition, some signs in infants may be a little more difficult to detect, since an infant cannot let you know he has a headache or stiff neck.

Additional symptoms include inactivity and excessive sleepiness. Infants with meningitis may also vomit, feed poorly and have stiffness in the body. Babies will often be irritable and cry excessively. Crying may be constant, and the infant may be inconsolable. Similar to adults and older children, seizures can develop in infants, if the disease progresses.


Treatment should not be delayed if meningitis is suspected. The faster treatment starts the less likely complications will develop or become severe. According to the Cleveland Clinic, if treatment is delayed complications of bacterial meningitis can include paralysis and brain damage.

The first step in treatment is identifying the cause of meningitis. For example, viral meningitis may only require treatment for patient comfort, such as medication to reduce headaches and fever. Bacterial meningitis will always require treatment, which will include antibiotics usually administered intravenously. Additional treatments may also be needed to reverse complications, which may have developed, such as shock or dehydration.

If you suspect meningitis, you should never take a wait and see approach. Certain types of meningitis can be deadly if not treated promptly. In addition to fast treatment, understanding how meningitis is prevented is important. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain vaccines are available to prevent bacterial meningitis. Getting enough rest and eating healthy also help prevent illnesses, such as meningitis and keep your immune system functioning well.


More in category

Related Content