Meningitis is a condition that involves a viral infection in the spinal cord and brain which causes swelling in the meninges. There are many different forms of the meningitis virus in the United States. It is estimated that there are around 50,000 people hospitalized each year because of meningitis annually.
It is estimated that at least 90% of viral meningitis cases in the United States are caused by one of the many strains of the enterovirus. Contrary to popular belief, viral meningitis that is treated can be a serious condition, but it is rarely fatal if the person’s immune system is not compromised.
Cases of bacterial meningitis, also known as bacterial meningococcal disease, are a lot rarer. The condition is also a lot more serious than cases of viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening if it is not treated very early on, as soon as symptoms appear.
It is estimated that a little under 3,000 people are treated each year in the United States alone. Between 10 and 20 percent of those patients die. The reason this infection proves to be so fatal is the lack of medical treatment for the bacterium. Delay in getting treatment can cause brain damage, loss of hearing and permanent learning disabilities, if the disease does not prove fatal.
Both types of meningitis can be diagnosed by a pathologist, or a doctor who examines tissues and fluids to locate diseases. Diagnosis is usually completed by doing a spinal tap, or lumbar puncture. From here, the pathologist can determine whether viral or bacterial meningitis are present.
Anyone can get meningitis, it doesn’t matter how old you are. However, people who are the most at risk are infants, middle school to college age students, and people with a weak immune system.
The main symptoms of meningitis include a headache and a stiff neck. These are usually overlooked as “sleeping wrong on a pillow.” Other symptoms include irritability, fever, listlessness, and loss of appetite.
The symptoms viral and bacterial meningitis can be almost identical. Because of this, if your child has any illness that includes these symptoms, they should be evaluated by their health care practitioner. Even if they do not have meningitis, it will not be a wasted trip. Quick diagnosis, and early treatment are essential to saving a loved one’s life.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment for viral meningitis. However, medical treatment can prevent a secondary infection from occurring and can help reduce symptoms. Bacterial meningitis involves careful, hands on medical treatment that occurs around the clock. Strong antibiotics will help fight the infection, and fluids are usually given to flush the infection out faster.