Meningitis (Deadly Diseases and Epidemics)


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Course of the disease

Most cases of meningitis in the United States are caused by a viral infection, but bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections are other causes. Some cases of meningitis improve without treatment in a few weeks. Others can be life-threatening and require emergency antibiotic treatment. Seek immediate medical care if you suspect that someone has meningitis. Early treatment of bacterial meningitis can prevent serious complications.

Early meningitis symptoms may mimic the flu influenza. Symptoms may develop over several hours or over a few days. Bacterial meningitis is serious, and can be fatal within days without prompt antibiotic treatment. Delayed treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.

It's also important to talk to your doctor if a family member or someone you work with has meningitis. You may need to take medications to prevent getting the infection. Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the fluid and three membranes meninges protecting your brain and spinal cord. The tough outer membrane is called the dura mater, and the delicate inner layer is the pia mater. The middle layer is the arachnoid, a weblike structure containing the fluid and blood vessels covering the surface of the brain.


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Viral infections are the most common cause of meningitis, followed by bacterial infections and, rarely, fungal infections. Because bacterial infections can be life-threatening, identifying the cause is essential. Bacteria that enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain and spinal cord cause acute bacterial meningitis. But it can also occur when bacteria directly invade the meninges. This may be caused by an ear or sinus infection, a skull fracture, or, rarely, after some surgeries.

Viral meningitis is usually mild and often clears on its own. Most cases in the United States are caused by a group of viruses known as enteroviruses, which are most common in late summer and early fall.

Meningococcal Disease

Viruses such as herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps, West Nile virus and others also can cause viral meningitis. Slow-growing organisms such as fungi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis that invade the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain cause chronic meningitis.

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Chronic meningitis develops over two weeks or more. The signs and symptoms of chronic meningitis — headaches, fever, vomiting and mental cloudiness — are similar to those of acute meningitis. Fungal meningitis is relatively uncommon and causes chronic meningitis. It may mimic acute bacterial meningitis. Fungal meningitis isn't contagious from person to person. Cryptococcal meningitis is a common fungal form of the disease that affects people with immune deficiencies, such as AIDS.


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It causes severe illnesses including: meningitis an infection of membranes that cover the brain septicaemia blood poisoning. This section has information for health professionals, and answers to commonly asked questions. In this section Meningococcal disease: Information for general practitioners and emergency departments. Meningococcal vaccines: Eligibility, recommendations and supply.

Meningococcal | Home | CDC

Related areas Meningococcal W information release. Related websites Meningococcal disease surveillance ESR. Slow-growing organisms such as fungi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis that invade the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain cause chronic meningitis. Chronic meningitis develops over two weeks or more.

The signs and symptoms of chronic meningitis — headaches, fever, vomiting and mental cloudiness — are similar to those of acute meningitis. Fungal meningitis is relatively uncommon and causes chronic meningitis.


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  • It may mimic acute bacterial meningitis. Fungal meningitis isn't contagious from person to person. Cryptococcal meningitis is a common fungal form of the disease that affects people with immune deficiencies, such as AIDS. It's life-threatening if not treated with an antifungal medication. Meningitis can also result from noninfectious causes, such as chemical reactions, drug allergies, some types of cancer and inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis.

    Learn more about Epidemic Meningitis

    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:. Common bacteria or viruses that can cause meningitis can spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, or sharing eating utensils, a toothbrush or a cigarette. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that a single dose be given to children ages 11 to 12, with a booster shot given at age If the vaccine is first given between ages 13 and 15, the booster is recommended between ages 16 and If the first shot is given at age 16 or older, no booster is necessary.

    This vaccine can also be given to children between the ages of 2 months and 10 years who are at high risk of bacterial meningitis or who have been exposed to someone with the disease. It's also used to vaccinate healthy but previously unvaccinated people who have been exposed in outbreaks. Mayo Clinic does not endorse companies or products.

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    Symptoms of Meningitis

    This content does not have an English version. This content does not have an Arabic version. Overview Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes meninges surrounding your brain and spinal cord.

    Role of the laboratory

    Request an Appointment at Mayo Clinic. Meningitis Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the fluid and three membranes meninges protecting your brain and spinal cord. Share on: Facebook Twitter. Show references Meningitis and encephalitis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

    Accessed Aug.

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