Spinal meningitis is a medical term that refers to inflammation of the meninges of the spinal cord and brain. The inflammation may be caused by different bacteria, viruses or fungi. This is a serious and rather complex medical condition which requires suitable treatment. If left untreated, spinal meningitis inevitably leads to many neurological sequelae and patients may even die.
Infective Agents responsible for the Infection
Bacterial spinal meningitis (purulent meningitis) is most commonly caused by Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae type B. The last bacterium is generally the culprit of meningitis in infants while Neisseria m. and Streptococcus p. cause meningitis in adults. Bacterial meningitis is not so frequent as viral meningitis. Still, if it occurs, it may cause serious complications one of which is interruption of blood supply to the brain. Bacterial infection generally starts in a form of upper respiratory tract infection. Once entering blood stream these microorganisms may reach the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid and initiate inflammation.
Viral spinal meningitis is also known as aseptic meningitis. It is not severe as bacterial meningitis and basically resolves on its own, rarely causing any complication.
Finally, there is fungal spinal meningitis. This rare disease caused by fungi usually affects immunocompromised people such as patients suffering from AIDS etc.
Spinal Meningitis Clinical Characteristics
Symptoms and signs of all three forms of the infection are quite similar because they are closely related to inflammation of meninges. This is why practically all patients complain about headache, fever and chills and they are sensitive to light (photophobia). Nausea, vomiting and fatigue are also typical for the condition. Patient's neck is stiff, he/she may be confused or drowsy and in more severe cases develop seizures.
In infants there is evident irritability, high pitched crying, reluctance to eat, arching back, bulging fontanel and lethargy.
Spinal Meningitis Treatment
In most cases patients remain hospitalized once they are confirmed with meningitis. This particularly refers to patients suffering from bacterial meningitis and those with fungal meningitis.
During a hospital stay patients receive intravenous fluids and different medications which deal with symptoms and signs of the infection. While bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics and fungal with suitable antifungal medications, patients suffering from viral meningitis are treated symptomatically.
Early diagnosis and timely treatment are powerful against both, the infection and potential complications. Unfortunately, some patients eventually end with some temporarily or permanent neurological sequelae such as deafness, loss of vision, brain damage etc.