What is Meningitis: Symptoms, Types, Transmission and Treatment

Research Based
Medically reviewed by - Dr Rabia Akram, MD Written by - Dr. Shilpa R


What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes, which envelop the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. It is a life-threatening infection and can occur due to bacteria, viruses, fungi, or even non-infectious sources and can have severe consequences. Meningitis can have severe consequences, but early recognition of symptoms, prompt diagnosis, and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the outcome.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of meningitis, covering its symptoms, causes, types, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, complications, and prognosis.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes, which envelop the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. It is a life-threatening infection and can occur due to bacteria, viruses, fungi, or even non-infectious sources and can have severe consequences.


Meningitis Symptoms

Meningitis symptoms can differ depending on the cause of meningitis and the age of the patient affected.

Common symptoms of meningitis may include:

  • Neck stiffness1Symptoms| Researched based study from
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Altered mental status
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Other signs and symptoms of meningitis in adults and children above two years may include:

  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Neck pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures 1Symptoms| Researched based study from
  • Disorientation
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)

Bacterial meningitis may quickly lead to bloodstream infections known as septicemia and produce the following symptoms:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Joint pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pains
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dark purple-red rash 2Symptoms| Researched based study from

Signs of meningitis in infants and newborns:

  • High fever
  • Vomiting
  • Poor feeding
  • Constant crying
  • Bulging spot on the head of the baby 3Symptoms| Researched based study from
  • Trouble waking from sleep
  • High-pitched cry
  • Stiff or floppy body
  • Inactive and sluggish
  • Being very sleepy
  • Arching back


Types of Meningitis

Based on the cause, meningitis can be of different types, namely:

  • Bacterial
  • Viral
  • Fungal
  • Parasitic
  • Amebic
  • Non-infectious

Bacterial meningitis

  • It is fatal, and some patients with bacterial meningitis pass away in as short as a few hours.
  • And the majority of patients who recover from bacterial meningitis may have lifelong impairments like hearing loss, brain damage, etc.4Types| Researched based study from

Viral meningitis

  • It is the most common type that mostly affects people with weakened immune systems.
  • It is less dangerous when compared to bacterial meningitis.

Fungal meningitis

  • It occurs when the fungal infection spreads to the brain or spinal cord from a different body part.
  • It is rare and affects people who have specific medical disorders, such as diabetes, HIV, or cancer, that weaken the immune system.

Parasitic meningitis

  • Numerous parasites can lead to meningitis and are substantially less frequent than bacterial or viral types.

Amebic meningitis

  • An extremely uncommon but deadly infection.4Types| Researched based study from
  • The ameba enters the brain through the nose and causes swelling and tissue damage to the brain.

Non-infectious meningitis

  • This type of meningitis does not spread among people.


Meningitis causes

Causes of meningitis may include:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Non-infectious conditions

Infectious diseases

Infectious causes of meningitis are:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Parasite
  • Ameba

Causes of viral meningitis may include:

  • Non-polio enterovirus. (Most common)
  • Measles virus
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Mumps virus
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Influenza virus5Causes| Researched based study from
  • Arboviruses like West Nile virus
  • Varicella-zoster virus
  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus

Bacterial infections that may cause meningitis include:

  • Neisseria meningitidis
  • Escherichia coli 6Causes| Researched based study from
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Less common)
  • Group B Streptococcus
  • Homophiles influenzae
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae

Some causes of fungal meningitis include

  • Cryptococcus
  • Blastomyces
  • Histoplasma
  • Candida 7Causes| Researched based study from
  • Coccidiosis’s

Parasites that can cause meningitis may include

  • Angiostrongylus cantonensis
  • Gnathostoma spinigerum 8Causes| Researched based study from
  • Baylisascaris procyonis

Amebic meningitis is caused by

  • Naegleria fowleri 9Causes| Researched based study from

Non-infectious meningitis can be due to

  • Cancer
  • Certain medicines like NSAIDs and antibiotics
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (Lupus)
  • Brain surgery10Causes| Researched based study from
  • Head injury


How do microorganisms that cause Meningitis enter the body?

Meningitis is not contagious, but the pathogens causing it, like viruses and bacteria, can spread among individuals.

Through the following ways, a person can contract meningitis-causing pathogens :

  • From a mother to a child around the time of birth. (Example – Group B Streptococcus)
  • Respiratory droplets or throat secretions.
  • Direct or sexual contact. (Example – Herpes simplex viruses)
  • Consuming contaminated food or water. 11Transmission| Researched based study from
  • Swimming in unsafe or contaminated water. (Example – Naegleria fowleri)
  • Breathing in fungal spores from the environment.


People at risk

The following individuals have an increased likelihood of developing meningitis:

  • People with long-term medical conditions like kidney failure, diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, cystic fibrosis, etc.
  • Newborns, infants, and older adults.
  • Anyone who has not completed their recommended childhood or adult vaccination schedule.
  • Individuals with weakened immunity, like organ transplant receivers, have their spleen removed and have HIV infection, among others.12Risk| Researched based study from
  • Those living in crowded dormitories, boarding schools, military camps, etc.
  • People are traveling to endemic areas.
  • Microbiologists who get exposed to meningitis-causing bacteria at the laboratory.
  • Those who are exposed to vectors like mosquitoes, ticks, etc.
  • People who are addicted to alcohol.
  • Individuals are under certain medicines like immunosuppressants.
  • Those who use IV drugs.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Cancer patients.


Diagnosis of Meningitis

Diagnosing meningitis involves a combination of a detailed medical history, clinical examination, and a few diagnostic tests.

A healthcare provider may perform the following:

  • Blood tests – to look for meningitis-causing pathogens under a microscope.
  • Imaging studies – like CT or MRI scans of the head.
  • Lumbar puncture – to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples for determining the presence of viruses, bacteria, or other abnormalities.13Diagnosis| Researched based study from


Meningitis Treatment

Meningitis requires prompt medical attention, and most patients need hospitalization and close monitoring till their conditions improve.

  • Bacterial meningitis is an emergency requiring treatment with antibiotics given through the vein (IV). Sometimes corticosteroids may also be given to reduce the risk of complications like seizures.14Treatment| Researched based study from
  • Viral meningitis is typically managed with supportive care, like fluids, over-the-counter pain relievers, and rest.
  • Oral or intravenous antifungal medications may be given for fungal meningitis.


Meningitis prevention

Several preventive measures can help reduce the risk of meningitis and may include:

  • Meningococcal and pneumococcal meningitis are two bacterial meningitis forms that can be prevented by vaccination.15Prevention| Researched based study from
  • Regularly washing your hands can help stop the transmission of infectious pathogens by practicing excellent hygiene.
  • Additionally, it’s crucial to keep your distance from somebody with meningococcal or respiratory infections.


Complications of Meningitis.


Meningitis can result in several complications, including:

  • Fluid buildup inside the skull 16Complications| Researched based study from
  • Brain damage
  • Limb weakness
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech problems
  • Vision problems
  • Memory loss
  • Learning disabilities
  • Seizures
  • Sepsis (2)
  • Death


Prognosis of Meningitis

The prognosis for meningitis depends on several factors, including the underlying cause, the age and overall health of the affected individual, the promptness of diagnosis, and the initiation of appropriate treatment. Long-term effects and complications may still occur even after successful treatment. To control and reduce these consequences, rehabilitation, and aftercare may be required. By raising awareness, promoting preventive measures, and ensuring early medical intervention, we can minimize meningitis’s impact and safeguard the well-being of at-risk individuals.

Disclaimer: The user acknowledges that this article's information is being offered for informational purposes only. Every attempt has been made to guarantee that the article is informational and correct. If they have any doubts or questions about their health, we firmly advise our readers to visit a doctor or other healthcare professional.

Related Articles

subscribe drcure
subscribe drcure
Thanks for subscribing
Look out for our email. Follow our social pages