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What Causes Meningitis?

Meningitis is a rare medical condition that affects the delicate membrane covering the brain and spinal cord known as meninges. The infection can spread between people who are in close contact with each other. While some cases of meningitis may improve in a few weeks without treatment, others can be life threatening and often require immediate medical treatment. Health experts recommend early treatment of meningitis to prevent a patient from developing serious complications. If not treated, meningitis can cause permanent disability, brain swelling, coma or worst of all, death. This article looks at the major causes of meningitis including its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Symptoms of Meningitis

Meningitis symptoms may vary depending on age and can develop within hours or days. Some of the common symptoms include fever, headache, confusion, stomach upset, stiff neck, and sensitivity to light. Early meningitis may mimic the symptoms of flu, also known as influenza. Newborns or infants may experience various symptoms such as high fever, sluggishness, irritability, poor feeding, and a bulge in the soft spot on top of their heads.

Major Causes of meningitis

  • Bacteria

Different types of bacteria can lead to a contagious infection known as bacterial meningitis. One of the common types of bacteria that can cause bacterial meningitis is Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can be found in the nasal cavity, sinuses, and respiratory tract. Hemophilus influenza is another type of bacteria that not only causes meningitis but also causes inflammation of the windpipe and infection of the blood. Neisseria meningitidis is spread through respiratory fluids including saliva. Other types include Listeria monocytogenes, which are foodborne bacteria and staphylococcus aureus that is commonly found on the skin.

  • Viruses

Meningitis can also be caused by viruses in the Enterovirus category which includes coxsackievirus A, coxsackievirus B, and echoviruses. Other viruses that can cause meningitis include mumps, influenza, herpes, measles, and HIV. Viruses in the Enterovirus category are common during summer and fall. However, a small percentage of people who contract some of these viruses often develop meningitis. It is important to know that viral meningitis can go away without treatment while other causes may not require any type of treatment.

  • Fungi

Fungi can enter your bloodstream and spread to the area between your brain and spinal cord. Fungal meningitis usually develops in people with a weakened immune system such as patients suffering from cancer or HIV. Some of the common fungi that cause meningitis include Blastomyces, Cryptococcus, Coccidioides, and Histoplasma. Cryptococcus is inhaled from soil or dirt that is contaminated with bird droppings. Histoplasma is found in areas contaminated with bat or bad droppings. Blastomyces and Coccidioides are also found in soil and can cause fungal meningitis.

  • Parasites

Meningitis can also be caused by parasites found in feces, dirt, and on some foods like raw fish, snails, and poultry. The three main parasites that cause parasitic meningitis are Gnathostoma spinigerum, Baylisascaris procyonis, and angiostrongylus cantonensis. Unlike bacterial meningitis, parasitic meningitis cannot be passed from one person to another. Instead, the parasites can hide out on food or infect an animal that is eventually eaten by humans as food. The eggs of the parasite are infectious and may cause an infection once ingested. The parasite can destroy brain tissues causing seizures, hallucinations, and other serious symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Meningitis

Meningitis is diagnosed through physical examination, testing through spinal tap. The treatment of meningitis may vary depending on the primary cause. Bacterial meningitis requires immediate medical attention since early treatment prevents brain damage and possible death. It is usually treated with intravenous antibiotics depending on the type of bacteria involved. Patients suffering from fungal meningitis are treated using antifungal agents.

Parasitic meningitis may involve treating the infection directly or only treat the symptoms. This type of meningitis may get better without antibiotics depending on the cause. Although some cases of viral meningitis may resolve on their own, other situations may require treatment using intravenous antiviral medications.


The best way to prevent meningitis is to practice good hygiene by not sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, lip balms, or cutting objects. There are also vaccinations that can be administered to reduce the risk of meningitis. It is also important to wash your hands often to avoid spreading germs. Always cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and lastly, stay healthy by eating a balanced diet, performing regular exercises and getting enough rest.

Meningitis can be caused by either bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi. The best way to prevent meningitis is to maintain a healthy lifestyle especially if you have a weakened immune system. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you have been in contact with a person infected with meningitis, as they can be contagious.  Treating meningitis at an early stage is essential as it prevents you from developing serious health complications.

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