Spinal Meningitis is a disease that causes irritation and/or inflammation of the membranes (also known as meninges) in the nervous system. These membranes are present in the central nervous system to protect the brain and spinal cord. When the body is invaded by bacterial or viral meningitis the meninges are susceptible because there are no white blood cells in the cerebral spinal fluid. White blood cells are the immune system’s major line of defence against infection. The disease is contagious and can be very serious with long-lasting damage to the brain, central nervous system, and the rest of the body occurring in some cases.
Spinal Meningitis Statistics
Every year approximately 3000-5000 people in the US contract bacterial meningitis, the more aggressive form of the disease, with 20-25% of those cases resulting in death. If the disease progresses rapidly over 24hrs then the fatality figure is closer to 50%. The number of people contracting viral meningitis is difficult to establish as it may be dismissed as influenza by some patients and they recover fully without recourse to treatment from a physician. That is not to say that the viral form of the disease is harmless as it can also cause chronic debilitation and death in some people.
Affects of Meningitis
Many people do recover with no long-term damage, but these are usually cases where the meningitis infection was caught and treated early. Some of the long-term effects of meningitis include loss of hearing, impairment of cognitive function (the ability to think and learn), necessary amputation of the limbs, blindness, paralysis, and seizures. Initial symptoms to watch out for are stiffness of the neck, with an inability to touch the chin to the chest, a rash which does not disappear when glass is pressed against it, headaches, light sensitivity, seizures, excessive sleepiness, vomiting and nausea, and lack of thirst or hunger. There are numerous other symptoms of meningitis to watch out for and it is important to be aware of those symptoms that can manifest in children who cannot communicate their symptoms, and are at particular risk of long-term impairment from the disease.
Bacterial and Fungal Spinal Meningitis
Most cases are viral or bacterial in nature, but the disease can be caused by fungal infection and other microorganisms along with certain types of cancer, head injury, other illnesses, and medication reactions. Vaccinations do exist that may protect against the bacterial form of meningitis, and the pneumonia vaccine may also provide some level of protection against the disease. Treatment for viral meningitis is usually home-care with the use of pain relievers and medication to reduce any fever. Antibiotics do not work on this type of meningitis and simple rest and recuperation means that most people recover fully from viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis however requires immediate treatment with antibiotics injected intravenously and close monitoring of the patient. Steroid injections may also be given to alleviate inflammation, and if the disease progresses the patient may require a breathing tube to be inserted and possible catheterisation. Antibiotic treatment may be commenced prior to the exact diagnosis being given so as to not lose time in the case of an aggressive disease progression. Viral meningitis requires a spinal tap test and the results take time to process, which can delay treatment and significantly effect outcome if the infection turns out to be bacterial. Those diagnosed with viral meningitis and sent home should still be monitored and return for another check-up in two days.
Next read about: Causes of Meningitis
Last Updated: 03/08/2011