Meningitis (also called Meningococcal Disease) is an inflammation of the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by bacteria or a virus, but it is possible that it can also be caused by certain medications or illnesses. Thus, there are two common types of meningitis: Bacterial Meningitis and Viral Meningitis.  

Bacterial meningitis can be life threatening, especially if it is not treated immediately, but viral meningitis is relatively common and does not have any serious long-term effects. It is often remains undiagnosed because its symptoms are very similar to those of the common flu. Meningitis can attack anybody at any age but it can be treated successfully if diagnosed at an early stage.

Causes of meningitis

Many of the bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis are usually associated with other routine illnesses. It is caused by the bacteria and viruses that infect the skin, urinary system, gastrointestinal or respiratory tract. They spread through the bloodstream to the meninges through cerebrospinal fluid, which circulates in and around the spinal cord. In some cases the bacteria spreads to the meninges from a severe head trauma or serious ear infection or nasal sinus infection.

Bacterial meningitis is contagious, it can be spread when you sneeze or cough, or when you share cups or utensils; or even when you kiss someone with the virus. It is very important to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, after you sneeze, and before you eat.

Vaccines are given to children to help protect them from serious diseases like meningitis.

Symptoms of Meningitis

The following symptoms of meningitis may occur in adults and children over the age of two years:

  • a very bad headache that won't go away
  • neck stiffness
  • back stiffness
  • eye pain or irritation when exposed to light
  • nausea, or being sick to the stomach
  • vomiting, or throwing up
  • body aches
  • fever
  • feeling very sleepy or unable to fully wake up
  • feeling very confused or out of it

Symptoms of meningitis can come on very quickly or take a couple of days to appear. If you have any of these symptoms please don't hesitate to seek medical care.

How is meningitis diagnosed?

It is important to seek the doctor's help if you suspect you have meningitis. The doctor will review your symptoms and your medical history, and examine you. It is important to know whether meningitis is viral or bacterial, and also to know the severity of the illness because treatment differs. The doctor will take a sample of spinal fluid by performing a spinal tap or lumbar puncture. That means a needle is inserted into the spinal canal in the lower back to withdraw a small amount of spinal fluid. This procedure is very safe. If bacterial meningitis is diagnosed it makes it easy to identify the type of causal bacteria. All this is done to prescribe the right antibiotics.

Other tests may also be done, including:

  • Blood tests
  • CT scan or MRI scan of the brain
  • X-rays of skull, sinuses or chest

Treatment of meningitis

Bear in mind that urgent treatment is necessary for bacterial meningitis and septicaemia. If your doctor suspects you have bacterial meningitis, he or she will hospitalise you for treatment with antibiotics, and other supportive care. You will probably receive antibiotics for at least 7-10 days, or longer for children. These antibiotics are effective, but need to be started early in the course of the disease. Antibiotics are not helpful in cases of viral meningitis, and treatment is based on appropriate nursing care.

Follow the treatment plan that is prescribed by your doctor, drink lots of fluids, and eat nutritious foods. It is also advised to get sufficient rest in a quiet, dimly lit room. Ask your doctor which pain relief medication is best for you. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for headache and body pains is often prescribed.

The good news about meningitis is that if it is treated immediately, chances of recovery are good. The majority of people who contract bacterial meningitis and develop meningococcal septicaemia make a full recovery.


There are vaccines that provide excellent protection against some forms of meningitis. Meningitis has three main strains. Not all strains of the disease can be prevented. There is a vaccine against the A and C strains and it is effective in about 80% of cases. There is no vaccine against Meningococcus Group B and it is still the most common group causing meningitis and Meningococcal Septicaemia. If a person becomes ill with A or C strain then they can take the vaccine but it is\ not effective in younger children.

If you've had all your vaccinations, they will help protect you from getting meningitis. But there's another way to prevent those germs from getting inside your body: Wash your hands. Wash up regularly with warm, soapy water especially before eating, after using the bathroom, and whenever your hands are dirty. It's also smart to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.