What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious disease that is marked by inflammation of the membranes (meninges) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which encase and protect the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is also called spinal meningitis.

Types of meningitis include:

  • Acute bacterial meningitis occurs suddenly due to a bacterial infection and is generally the most serious type of meningitis. 

  • Aseptic meningitis is similar to other forms of meningitis, but the cause is not a bacterial infection of the meninges or CSF. Aseptic meningitis can be caused by viruses, some drug reactions, and certain conditions, such as tuberculosis, brain surgery, head injury, cancer, or Lyme disease.

  • Chronic meningitis is a long-term disease and develops over weeks or months.

  • Viral meningitis can occur suddenly (acute) or develop slowly over a two-week period or longer (chronic).

The viruses and bacteria that can cause many forms of meningitis are carried by humans in the nose and throat and are spread into the air by coughing and sneezing. Once pathogens are airborne, they can be picked up by anyone who breathes them into their respiratory tract. The pathogens then spread from the respiratory tract to the bloodstream where they are carried to the nervous system. In the nervous system they multiply and cause infection and inflammation of the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid.

Typical symptoms of meningitis include a high fever and stiff neck. Treatment of meningitis varies depending on the type of meningitis. Almost all people with viral meningitis will recover, but acute bacterial meningitis is often life threatening if it is not quickly diagnosed and treated. 

Meningitis is a serious disease that can be life threatening because of serious complications, such as shock and coma. Seek prompt medical care if you have been exposed to someone who has meningitis.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of meningitis such as high fever, stiff neck, change in consciousness, seizure, and a rash of tiny purple or red spots.


What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms of meningitis vary depending on the type of meningitis and individual factors. Some symptoms can resemble symptoms of other diseases, such as the flu.

Symptoms of acute bacterial meningitis are generally the most severe. Milder forms of meningitis, such as chronic meningitis and viral meningitis, resemble the symptoms of acute bacterial meningitis. However, symptoms of ch... Read more about meningitissymptoms


What causes meningitis?

The most common cause of meningitis is a virus, specifically enteroviruses, which are very common viruses that spread by hand-to-mouth contact, coughing, and contact with fecal matter of an infected person (such as changing the diaper of a baby infected with the virus). In most cases, enteroviruses cause a cold-like illness, but in some individuals the virus spreads to the membranes (meninges) ... Read more about meningitiscauses


How is meningitis treated?                                                    

Treatment of meningitis varies depending on the type of meningitis, your age, and other factors. General treatment of all forms of meningitis includes:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves