Meningitis. What should we know?

To understand what meningitis is, first, we must know the meninges.


What are the meninges?

They are membranes that surround and protect the central nervous system, which are, the brain and the spinal cord. 


**Watch out: Skull bones don’t only contain the brain, but also the cerebellum and the brainstem. These 3 parts make up the encephalon, all of them covered by the meninges.

Source: Wikimedia Commons


Just last year, researchers discovered an unknown layer, so in total there are 4 meninges. 


These thin layers are made up of different cell types and, between them, there is a cerebrospinal fluid. This liquid brings oxygen and glucose to the brain, buffers impact and shields it from chemicals that may harm it. Blood vessels reaching the encephalon pass through the meninges.


Summing up: The main role of meninges is to protect the central nervous system from physical (buffering hits), and chemical and biological damage (infections).

Source: Wikiwand 


What is meningitis?

Is the inflammation of the meninges. It is a very serious disease. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites. Is not very common, but it can also be caused by some medicines or other causes.


Meningitis caused by viruses (viral) is more common and milder. However, meningitis caused by bacteria, even though is not as usual, is the most dangerous and can be fatal in hours. 


Closely related to meningitis, as it can be a complication of this disease, we find sepsis or septicemia. Septicemia or sepsis is the presence of bacteria in the blood, which can lead to an infection throughout the body. It is very dangerous.


The main risk factor for meningitis is age. This disease affects mainly children under 5 years of age and young people between 15 and 24 years old and people over 65 years of age.


According to the Meningitis Research Foundation, this disease affects more than 2.5 million people in the world each year.

Also, meningitis and neonatal sepsis are the second biggest infectious killers of children under 5.


Since this is an infectious disease, people in contact with someone having meningitis are at risk.


But it is not only a serious disease because it’s fatal, its sequelae can be very serious: disabilities, weakness in arms and/or legs, speech, language and memory problems, convulsions (seizure), loss of the senses (hearing or sight), brain damage, deformities and limbs amputation. 


How do I identify meningitis?

It is very hard at the beginning because symptoms are very similar to those of common diseases such as cold, the flu a vomiting bug or food poisoning (gastroenteritis): fever, headache, vomiting, irritability in babies, lack of appetite, lack of energy or diarrhoea in some cases.


But there are bacterial meningitis characteristic symptoms that can alert us:

  • In babies: Swollen fontanels.
  • Muscle and joint pain (generally in legs).*
  • Confusion and delirium.
  • Breathing faster than usual.*
  • Photophobia (unusual light sensitivity). 
  • Cold hands and feet. *
  • Shivering.
  • Blueish skin. *
  • Stiffness in the neck.
  • Loss of consciousness and seizures.
  • Petechiae (the meningitis rash): red or purple spots on the skin that do not fade under pressure. They first appear on the torso. To determine if they are petechiae, you can perform the glass test: gently press a clear glass over the area where the spots are located. If they do not disappear, they are petechiae. If this happens, it is important to seek emergency medical attention quickly.

The symptoms I marked with an asterisk (*) also appear on sepsis. 


Source: Meningitis Research Foundation 


If these symptoms appear, and the kid also has a fever with a clear cause it could be meningitis and you should go to emergency.


How can it be prevented?

The most effective prevention action is vaccines, like some of the vaccines that we get when we are babies or toddlers (depending on the vaccination programme of each country). Some of them fight bacteria that can provoke meningitis, like meningococci, el pneumococci or Haemophilus influenzae.


Also, there are vaccines against viruses that can cause meningitis, like the measles virus, varicella virus, or the one that causes mumps. 


And, same as with other infectious diseases, hygiene is very important. For example, washing our hands. 


Another way to avoid meningitis is to protect our immune system by having healthy habits (avoiding toxic substances such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, healthy eating, physical exercise…).


As always, here you have more information from the websites I have checked to write this article below:





Foto de Kelly Sikkema en Unsplash


Leave a comment