Spinal meningitis is the infection and inflammation of the meninges, and the cerebrospinal fluid of the spinal cord and the brain. It can be caused by bacterial, viral, as well as fungal infections.
Spinal meningitis is the infection and inflammation of the meninges, the membrane that covers the brain and the spinal cord. Apart from the meninges, the cerebrospinal fluid can also get infected. If left untreated, the infection can damage the nerve cells, and cause neurological problems. The infection is caused by microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
Bacterial meningitis is usually referred to as ‘purulent meningitis’, while the non-bacterial form of the disease is termed as ‘aseptic meningitis’. The bacterial form of the disease is usually caused by Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria. Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is commonly known to cause spinal meningitis in infants, while the other two types of bacteria are responsible for causing the disease in adults.
Bacteria can directly infect the meninges and the cerebrospinal fluid, or cause an upper respiratory infection initially and then spread to the brain through the bloodstream. Viral meningitis is a less serious condition that usually resolves on its own. The viruses associated with gastrointestinal diseases are mainly responsible for causing the infection. Apart from bacteria and viruses, it can also be caused by fungi. Fungal meningitis is a rare disease that mostly affects individuals with an weakened immune system. So, people with AIDS are more susceptible to this condition.
Signs and Symptoms
The condition affects the meninges and the cerebrospinal fluid, and damages the nerves. This can produce a number of symptoms, such as:
- High fever and chills
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Confusion and drowsiness
- Rapid breathing
- Joint pain and muscle spasms
In addition to these symptoms, infants with this condition can exhibit some additional symptoms like:
- High pitched crying
- Reluctance to eat
- Arching back
- Bulging fontanelle
It is usually diagnosed with the help of the lumbar puncture procedure, where a sample of cerebrospinal fluid is drawn and tested for the presence of infectious agents. Other diagnostic tests include, chest X-ray, CT scan, and bacterial culture.
A severe case requires hospitalization and intravenous fluid administration. The bacterial form of the disease is treated with appropriate antibiotics. The type of antibiotics used for the treatment can vary depending on the specific strain of the bacteria. In the meantime, if headaches, fever, and seizures become severe, then other medications will be required to manage these symptoms.
Antibiotics are not effective for treating the viral form of the disease. The viral form of the disease usually resolves within 2 to 3 weeks without medical intervention. Vaccines are also available, especially for the meningitis caused by haemophilus and pneumococcus bacteria. The haemophilus vaccine can prove effective in preventing the disease in children.
Severe and untreated meningitis can cause permanent neurological damage, deafness, loss of vision, brain damage, and shock. Hydrocephalus can also occur, if cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the ventricles of the brain. Some types of bacterial meningitis are contagious that can spread through direct contact with the saliva and the nasal discharge of the infected individual. So, it is important to take some precautionary measures to prevent the transmission of the disease.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.