Meningitis

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Overview

Signs and symptoms of meningeal inflammation have been recorded in countless ancient texts throughout history; however, the term 'meningitis' came into general usage after surgeon John Abercrombie defined it in 1828.

Despite breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment, and vaccination, in 2015, there were 8.7 million reported cases of meningitis worldwide, with 379,000 subsequent deaths.

Meningitis is a life-threatening disorder that is most often caused by bacteria or viruses. Before the era of antibiotics, the condition was universally fatal. Nevertheless, even with great innovations in healthcare, the condition still carries a mortality rate of close to 25%.

Symptoms

Sudden high fever.

Stiff neck.

Severe headache that seems different from normal.

Headache with nausea or vomiting.

Confusion or difficulty concentrating.

Seizures.

Sleepiness or difficulty waking.

Sensitivity to light.

Causes

Meningitis almost always results from a bacterial or viral infection that begins somewhere else in your body, like your ears, sinuses, or throat.

Less common causes of meningitis include:

Autoimmune disorders

Cancer medications

Syphilis

Tuberculosis

Risk factors

People with an immune deficiency are more vulnerable to infections. This includes the infections that cause meningitis. Certain disorders and treatments can weaken your immune system. These include:

HIV/AIDS

autoimmune disorders

chemotherapy

organ or bone marrow transplants

cancer

immunosuppressive medication

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Complications

Meningitis complications can be severe. The longer you or your child has the disease without treatment, the greater the risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage, including:

Hearing loss

Memory difficulty

Learning disabilities

Brain damage

Gait problems

Seizures

Kidney failure

Shock

Death

Prevention

You may be able to prevent meningitis by avoiding infection with the viruses or bacteria that cause it. These infections are passed to others when you cough, sneeze, kiss, or share toothbrushes or eating utensils. Take these steps to prevent infections:

Wash hands often. Rinse well. Teach your kids to wash their hands often too, especially after eating, using the toilet, or when you’re in public places.

Don’t share items like toothbrushes, eating utensils, or lipstick.

Don’t share foods or drinks with other people.

Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

Stay healthy. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and rest at night.

If you’re pregnant, eat food that’s well-cooked. Avoid foods made from unpasteurized milk.

Get immunized. Follow your doctor’s advice on getting immunization shots for diseases that may cause bacterial meningitis, including flu and pneumonia vaccines.