Meningitis is a condition caused by inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and the spinal cord commonly referred to as meninges.
In most cases meningitis is caused by infection with viruses or bacteria. In bacterial meningitis the bacteria reach the meninges through the bloodstream. When components of bacterial cell membranes are identified by immune cells of the brain, the cells respond by releasing large amounts of chemicals which then in turn cause the inflammation. Direct contamination of the cerebrospinal fluid may arise from skull fractures, nasal sinuses or from ear infection.
The symptoms of meningitis include; fever and chills, photophobia, acute headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting.
The most important way of diagnosing meningitis is the history of headaches and stiff necks. The confirmation of meningitis can be done through blood test to check for any sign of inflammation. Blood cultures are also done to grow the organisms. A lumbar puncture can also be done by getting the cerebrospinal fluid. If there is presence of white/red blood cells or bacteria it may suggest a case of bacterial meningitis.
Meningitis can be fatal if not detected and treated early. A treatment with wide range of antibiotics should be administered immediately while confirmatory tests are being conducted. The initial treatment will depend on the type of bacteria that causes meningitis. These drugs are administered through intravenous route due to the resistance by various substances into the cerebrospinal fluid. The treatment may last more than a week.
Meningitis can be prevented trough vaccination. Haemophilus vaccine and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine are very effective.
Meningitis is a treatable disease if detected early. However bacterial meningitis is a serious illness which may cause death within hours of onset. It is therefore advisable to visit a health center should you have a severe headache and a fever.
Fortnum HM, Davis AC. Epidemiology of bacterial meningitis. Arch Dis Child. 1993
Prof. Erastus Amayo consultant Physician and Neurologist. University of Nairobi
NICE (2007) Feverish Illness in Children. London
Managing meningitis http://www.everydayhealth.com/meningitis/meningitis-management.aspx>