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Bacterial, Viral, and Fungal Meningitis: Understand the Difference

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  • Meningitis: The Basics

    Meningitis: The Basics

    Meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord (or, “meninges”). Depending on the type of infection, the meningitis could clear up on its own in a matter of weeks, or it could be dangerous and even life-threatening.

  • Types and Symptoms of Meningitis

    Types and Symptoms of Meningitis

    There are three main types of meningitis, which are based on the type of infection. These are:

    • viral meningitis
    • fungal meningitis
    • bacterial meningitis

    Initial symptoms are the same in all types, and generally consist of:

    • high fever
    • stiff neck
    • headaches

  • Viral Meningitis: An Overview

    Viral Meningitis: An Overview

    A viral infection is the most common cause of meningitis in the United States. Several viruses can lead to meningitis. Most of these causal viruses are in the enterovirus family. Less commonly, other viruses like HIV, herpes simplex, and the West Nile virus can lead to meningitis. In most cases, when a virus is to blame, the infection is usually fairly mild, and may even clear up without treatment. 

  • Viral Meningitis: Treatment

    Viral Meningitis: Treatment

    In most cases, no treatment is necessary for viral meningitis. Certain treatments can be helpful, depending on the virus that caused the infection (for example, herpes simplex). Also, some patients may require in-patient care if they fall into a higher-risk category, like:

    • those with weakened immune systems
    • the elderly
    • the very young

  • Fungal Meningitis: An Overview

    Fungal Meningitis: An Overview

    A fungal infection is the least common cause of meningitis in most parts of the world. It is not usually spread from an infected person to other people, and generally affects people with weakened immune systems. People with HIV or cancer are at higher risk of fungal meningitis. The types of fungi that are usually responsible are Cryptococcus, which can be inhaled from bird droppings, and Histoplasma, found in bat droppings.

  • Fungal Meningitis: Treatment

    Fungal Meningitis: Treatment

    Fungal meningitis is usually treated with intravenously administered antifungal medications. Patients can expect to enter the hospital for treatment. The length of their stay depends on the condition of their immune system. In some cases, patients will need to continue maintenance treatment for a long period of time.

  • Bacterial Meningitis: An Overview

    Bacterial Meningitis: An Overview

    Bacterial meningitis is so-named because it is caused by bacteria. Usually, the causal bacteria enter the bloodstream, and then travel to the meninges. It’s also possible to introduce bacteria directly in the meninges through sinus infections or ear infections. Bacterial meningitis is the most urgent and potentially rapidly fatal type. It can be life-threatening if it is not treated quickly.

  • Bacteria that Cause Meningitis

    Bacteria that Cause Meningitis

    Several bacteria can cause meningitis:

    • Pneumococcus causes pneumonia, ear, and sinus infections. It is the most common culprit in bacterial meningitis.
    • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) once was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis, until the Hib vaccine became standard in children.
    • Meningococcus is the most contagious bacteria behind meningitis, and is known for causing outbreaks in college dorms.
    • Listeria is found in some meats and cheeses, and can be dangerous to pregnant women and the elderly.

  • Bacterial Meningitis: Treatment

    Bacterial Meningitis: Treatment

    Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency, and must be treated quickly. Patients should be kept in the hospital while being treated with antibiotic medication. With prompt and proper antibiotic treatment, the risk of death as a result of meningitis should be below 15 percent

  • A Word of Caution

    A Word of Caution

    If you have symptoms of meningitis, you should immediately call your doctor. They can run tests to see if you have the disease, and determine the type of infection you might have. If you suspect you have been in contact with someone who has meningitis, it is also important to let your doctor know. In cases of bacterial meningitis, prompt treatment is critical in order to avoid serious and life-threatening complications.

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