Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. The most common symptoms are headache, fever, neck stiffness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate bright light and loud noises. Bacterial meningitis which is accompanied by septicemia (blood poisoning) can also be accompanied by a characteristic rash.
Meningitis can lead to serious long-term consequences such as hearing loss, epilepsy, hydrocephalus and learning difficulties. Early treatment reduces the risk of complications.
What causes meningitis?
The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections which, although unpleasant, do not usually result in any lasting after effects. However, bacterial meningitis infections are extremely serious, and may result in death or brain damage, even if treated.
Meningitis is a emergency and requires urgent medical attention. Treatment will depend upon the cause of meningitis but may include antibiotics or antiviral drugs as well as oxygen, intravenous fluids and steroids to limit complications.
Is it preventable?
Immunisation can prevent some forms of meningitis but vaccines are not yet available to address all types.
Vaccines targeting some meningoccal, pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB) bacterial infections, and also the mumps virus have been used effectively in immunisation campaigns across the world.
Patient story: ‘Take every opportunity to vaccinate your child’
External link: Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO)