What Is Meningitis?

This disease should not be taken lightly because bacterial meningitis in particular can have very serious consequences. Quick action is required to prevent brain damage or death! 

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that cover the central nervous system, also called meninges. If these meninges or spinal cord membranes are inflamed, one also speaks of meningitis. The triggers are usually viruses or bacteria.

This disease should not be taken lightly, because bacterial meningitis in particular can have very serious consequences. Quick action is required to prevent brain damage or death! 

What is meningitis?

What are the meninges

Think of your brain as a fruit that has a nut inside, which is surrounded by a liquid to protect it. The skull is the shell of the nut, underneath is the brain, which is soft and vulnerable. But under the shell there are another three layers in which the cerebrospinal fluid also circulates to protect the brain.

These three layers under the skull are the meninges,  which are structured layers of connective tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord to provide this special protection.

The meninges anchor the brain in the skull and the spinal cord in the spinal canal. But the meninges and spinal cord membranes also have a protective function and form the so-called blood-brain barrier by preventing certain substances that are toxic to the nervous tissue from entering the brain.

Spread of meningitis

In the so-called meningitis belt, the risk of this disease is particularly high: These include  many East African countries, where the drought and temperature differences between day and night are particularly great from December to March. 

The greatest risk of meningococcal meningitis is in the Sahel, south of the Sahara (Senegal, Maili, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia …).

Inadequate medical measures increase the mortality rate. This leads to epidemics again and again. The heaviest of these to date claimed more than 25,000 lives in 1996.

In Europe, meningitis is predominant in children under 5 years of age. However, children from 2 months and adults can be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis and also against some viral forms.

Risk factors

  • Dry seasons
  • children
  • Contagious Infections
  • Immunosuppression
  • poisoning

Causes of Meningitis

The causative virus or bacteria are usually transmitted from person to person by kissing, coughing or sneezing, whereby people with a weakened immune system are more at risk of infection.

However, there are also non-contagious cases of meningitis.

Causative viruses

  • Enterovirus
  • Herpes Simplex Virus
  • HIV
  • West Nile virus (transmitted by mosquitoes)

Causative bacteria

The risk of infection by various pathogens varies depending on the age.

  • Newborns under 3 months:
    • Group B streptococci
    • E-coli
  • Children over three months:
    • Meningococci
    • Pneumococci
    • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Adults: 
    • Meningococci
    • Pneumococci
    • Listeria monocytogenes

How does the disease manifest itself?

The bacteria, which are usually found in the nose, mouth, and throat and usually do not cause harm, get into the bloodstream. From there, they cross the blood-brain barrier where it is weakest.

Then the bacteria reach the spinal fluid in the subarachnoid space and cause an infection in the meninges. 

Direct transmission can also occur in the event of skull fractures, surgical interventions, etc. Contiguity inflammation is also possible.


  • Fever, especially in newborns and children
  • Chills and freezing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Photosensitivity
  • Rigid Neck
  • cramps
  • a headache
  • decreased state of consciousness

The disease breaks out suddenly, with fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. However, in children, symptoms may be less specific, such as irritability or drowsiness. 

Brain damage

The swelling of the brain (cerebral edema) with increasing intracranial pressure can cause permanent damage. The brain is not adequately supplied with oxygen and this leads to the death of brain cells. If meningitis is not treated properly in time, it can also be fatal! 

Diagnosing meningitis

A physical examination is followed by a  lumbar puncture for an accurate diagnosis. Spinal fluid is taken with a needle in order to examine it for bacteria and viruses.

Lumbar puncture to diagnose meningitis

Types of meningitis

Meningitis, as already mentioned, can be viral or bacterial, depending on the etiological pathogen.

  • In many cases, viral meningitis is mild and often heals by itself.  However, hospitalization cannot be ruled out if the inflammation spreads to the brain, for example.
  • However, bacterial meningitis is very serious and requires hospitalization for treatment. In this case, the risk of death is high, even with treatment.

The disease can also be divided according to the evolutionary process – acute, subacute and chronic. However, this criterion is generally not used.


The patient should be given antiviral drugs and antibiotics as soon as possible.

To reduce inflammation and brain edema, doctors give corticosteroids such as dexamethasone. This is to reduce the risk of brain damage.

In addition, there are general recommendations on how much fluids to consume to control the fever. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent complications and reduce the risk of death. 

Possible consequences

  • deafness
  • epilepsy
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Hydrocephalus
  • death

In newborns and adults, the disease is fatal in 20-30% of cases. In older children, the risk drops to two percent.


As mentioned earlier, there is a vaccination against bacterial meningitis and also against some viral forms of meningitis.

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