Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord due to infection. There are two main strains of meningitis – viral and bacterial.  Viral meningitis is the most common and is rarely fatal. Individuals usually recover in 5-10 days. There are over 80 types of viral meningitis on this list. Bacterial meningitis is extremely serious – if not caught and treated within a few hours it can lead to death. There are over 50 types of bacterial meningitis on this list.

Meningitis commonly spreads through close contact, including coughing and sneezing. There are some vaccines that help prevent meningitis, but they don’t protect from all possible causes. People with compromised immune systems because of cancer treatment, HIV, infection, or other auto-immune diseases are more susceptible and need to be extra-cautious.

Please note: this page is written for adults, but meningitis often occurs in infants and children. Symptoms for this age group can get worse quickly, so it is important to monitor any symptoms your child is experiencing.

Symptoms of meningitis

Early symptoms (in the first 6 hours) of meningitis include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Nausea/vomiting

Later symptoms of meningitis (6-12 hours) include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Leg pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Pale skin

After 12 hours, symptoms could include:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Confusion
  • Decrease in responsiveness
  • Neck pain or a stiff neck
  • A rash (common for meningococcal disease)

While these symptoms are common with other conditions, if they appear suddenly, you should seek medical attention for your friend or family member as soon as possible.

Diagnosis and treatment of meningitis

Meningitis is most often diagnosed through an analysis of spinal fluid. Spinal fluid is collected through a lumbar puncture: a needle is used to retrieve the fluid from around the spine. Depending on the doctor’s findings, meningitis is commonly treated through antibiotics. If the person has a serious case of meningitis, they may have to stay under observation at the hospital.

The effects of meningitis

Meningitis has varying effects on people. Some fully recover with no lasting effects: in other cases, meningitis causes damage to the brain that will impact behaviour, cognition and physical abilities. This can include memory loss, headaches, speech problems, hand-eye coordination problems, and changes in sight.

See sources