Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and the spinal cord. This infection causes these membranes, the meninges, to become inflamed, which in some cases can damage the nerves and brain, which makes it life-threatening. Therefore, the condition is classified as a medical emergency



The most common symptoms of meningitis are headache and neck stiffness associated with fever, confusion or altered consciousness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate light or loud noises. Children often exhibit only nonspecific symptoms, such as irritability and drowsiness. If a rash is present, it may indicate a particular cause of meningitis; such as meningitis caused by meningococcal.

Anyone can get meningitis, but babies and young children under five years of age are most at risk. A baby or young child with meningitis may:

  • High fever
  • Constant crying
  • Excessive sleepiness or irritability
  • Inactivity or sluggishness
  • Poor feeding
  • A bulge in the soft spot on top of the head
  • Stiffness in a baby's body and neck

The symptoms that occur in anyone older than the age of 2 include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • Skin rash



The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses (such as: herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps, West Nile virus), bacteria or other microorganisms (which cause chronic meningitis), and less commonly by certain drugs. A number of strains of bacteria can cause acute bacterial meningitis. The most common include:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae;
  • Neisseria meningitidis;
  • Haemophilus influenzae;
  • Listeria monocytogenes.


Risk Factors

Risk factors for meningitis include:

  • Skipping vaccinations;
  • Being younger than the age of 5;
  • Living in a community setting, such as boarding schools, college dormitories, military bases;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Compromised immune system.



The longer one has the disease without treatment, the greater the risk of seizures and permanent neurological damage, including:

  • Hearing loss
  • Memory difficulty
  • Learning disabilities
  • Brain damage
  • Gait problems
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Shock
  • Death



There are several ways to prevent meningococcemia. Infected people are contagious and will be placed in private isolation rooms in the hospital. Other steps that can help prevent meningitis:

  • Practice good hygiene;
  • Stay healthy;
  • Cover the mouth;
  • Take care with food;
  • Immunizations.