Meningitis happens when the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges, become inflamed. In some cases, meningitis can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

COVID-19 is known to cause a variety of neurological symptoms, such as headache and loss of smell and taste. It can also lead to more serious neurological complications like confusion and stroke.

Meningitis has been associated with COVID-19 in rare cases. Keep reading to learn more.

Meningitis has been reported in people with COVID-19. However, it appears to be uncommon compared to other neurological symptoms or complications.

Most reports of meningitis due to COVID-19 are limited to case reports and case series. These are detailed reports of the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of one person or a small group of people, respectively.

This means that data on meningitis and COVID-19 remains scarce. For example, one 2021 study reported on 18 case reports and 4 case series of people with meningitis or encephalitis due to COVID-19. This totaled only 32 people.

The researchers found that:

  • The average age of the people included in the study was about 45 years old.
  • More people in the study were male (62.5%) than female (37.5%).
  • About 69% of people included in the study reported having typical COVID-19 symptoms prior to the onset of their meningitis or encephalitis symptoms.
  • The average time between the start of COVID-19 symptoms and meningitis or encephalitis symptoms was about 1 week.

Another 2021 study reported on 54 cases of meningitis or encephalitis linked to COVID-19. The authors also noted that most people included were in middle age, were mostly male, and had also reported typical COVID-19 symptoms.

They also observed that some people with COVID-19 and meningitis or encephalitis also had other underlying medical conditions. Some of the most common included high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

What are the neurological symptoms of COVID-19?

There are several neurological symptoms associated with COVID-19. Some of the common ones that you may be familiar with include:

In rare instances, COVID-19 can lead to more serious neurological complications, such as confusion, stroke, and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Additionally, long COVID is also associated with several persistent neurological symptoms, including:

To diagnose meningitis, a doctor will first take your medical history and do a physical exam. Then, they’ll order additional tests to determine what may be causing your symptoms. These can include:

  • Neurological exam: A neurological exam will evaluate things like your movements, coordination, balance, hearing, and vision.
  • Blood and urine tests: These tests can help doctors determine your overall health or the presence of an infection. They can also help rule out other conditions as a cause of your symptoms.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis: CSF is the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. A CSF sample is taken via a lumbar puncture and can look for markers of inflammation or infection.
  • Imaging tests: A CT scan or an MRI scan can help your doctor to visualize your brain and surrounding tissues for signs of inflammation.

The treatment of viral meningitis often involves supportive care. This can include providing fluids, maintaining electrolyte levels, and managing symptoms like fever and pain.

Antibiotics aren’t effective against viral infections like COVID-19. However, a doctor might prescribe antibiotics until they can rule out bacterial meningitis, which can become very serious.

The two 2021 studies (this one and this one) that we discussed earlier also noted that doctors used other treatments in people with COVID-19-related meningitis. These included:

Much of the data regarding meningitis caused by COVID-19 was published early in the pandemic, in 2020. This includes most of the case reports or case series included in the two 2021 studies we’ve been discussing.

Both studies reported that the majority of people with COVID-19-related meningitis recovered after treatment. However, some deaths were reported.

At that time of the pandemic, vaccines and more effective treatments for COVID-19 were not widely available. These have now become valuable tools in helping to prevent complications and death due to COVID-19 today.

As such, it’s hard to say how meningitis impacts COVID-19 outlook at this point in the pandemic. Overall, more current data is needed.

The best way to prevent meningitis due to COVID-19 is to take steps to avoid contracting COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should:

  • Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Move activities outside instead of inside.
  • Improve ventilation in your home, such as by opening windows and regularly changing your air filters.
  • Avoid contact with people who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
  • Wear a well-fitting mask and maintain physical distancing as needed when you’re out in public.

Additionally, it’s important to know that meningitis can also happen due to other causes. These include other viruses, bacteria, and fungi. To prevent coming down with these causes of meningitis, you can:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are currently sick.
  • Refrain from sharing food, eating utensils, and drinking glasses with others.
  • Regularly clean high-touch surfaces in your home, such as doorknobs, light switches, and faucet handles.
  • Stay up to date on vaccinations, such as those for meningococcal disease and pneumococcal disease.
  • Avoid outdoor activities that could expose you to fungi, such as yard work and gardening, if you have a weakened immune system.

Below we’ll aim to answer some additional questions that you may have about meningitis and COVID-19.

How common is meningitis as a complication of COVID-19?

It appears that meningitis as a complication of COVID-19 is quite rare. Most reports of it in the medical literature discuss cases in a single person or a small group of people.

Does meningitis increase my risk of COVID-19 infection?

There’s currently no research to suggest that currently having meningitis or having had meningitis in the past increases your risk of developing COVID-19.

Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause meningitis?

There have been a small number of case reports and case series documenting meningitis after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. However, this effect appears to be very rare. It’s believed to be mediated by the immune system.

Can I get the meningitis and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?

Yes. According to the CDC, you may receive a COVID-19 vaccine and another vaccine on the same day.

Meningitis can happen due to COVID-19. However, this complication is quite rare.

You can typically treat viral meningitis with supportive measures. A doctor may give you antibiotics until tests have ruled out bacterial meningitis.

If you’re concerned about meningitis, including COVID-19-related meningitis, you can take steps to prevent it. These include staying up to date on vaccines, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with people who are sick.