Meningitis means your meninges and cerebral fluid are infected. Your meninges surround your brain and spinal cord. The infection is caused by a virus or bacteria (pneumococcal bacteria, meningococcal bacteria and herpes virus). It’s uncommon because most people have been vaccinated against pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease. Meningitis is most common in children, young adults and people with a compromised immune system. The disease can have very serious consequences. Especially if bacteria is the cause. You can suffer brain damage, have hearing problems or die from it. If meningitis is caused by a virus, the symptoms and consequences are often less serious. You will get symptoms, but they’ll usually go away within a few days.
Meningitis symptoms are usually very mild to start with. The symptoms are similar to flu. Although the difference is that you can become increasingly unwell very quickly with meningitis. You can actually be seriously ill within 24 hours. The symptoms you may experience include:
- A high fever.
- A severe headache
- A stiff neck.
- Difficulty eating and drinking.
- You are very drowsy and virtually unresponsive.
- Hypersensitivity to light and sounds.
- Bruising on your skin. This will look like a purple rash. This is due to blood poisoning.
- Epileptic seizures (in very severe cases).
- Nappy pain and irritability for babies with meningitis.
Do you have one or more of these symptoms? Then stay alert. Meningitis can’t be treated at home. You will need medical help for this. Even if a virus is the cause of your meningitis, as that will need to be determined first. In the meantime, make sure you get plenty of rest and constantly try to drink small amounts. Vomiting and a loss of appetite can make you or your child dehydrated.
You will also need to make sure you protect others in your environment. You can do this by:
- Having you and your family vaccinated against pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease.
- Keep a sufficient distance.
- Regularly wash your hands.
- Use your own and clean towel for every use.
- Use your own cutlery and crockery. Wash everything well after use.
- Be careful with cold sores (which are also caused by the herpes virus).
You must immediately contact your GP or the out-of-hours service if you or your child has a fever and:
- Becomes seriously unwell within a short period of time.
- Has trouble drinking.
- Has trouble urinating.
- Has vomited several times.
- Has a severe headache and a stiff neck.
- Has a compromised immune system. For example, because you’re undergoing chemotherapy.
- Have been in a tropical area over for the past three weeks.
Your GP will immediately send you to the hospital if he or she suspects you have meningitis. Prompt intervention is very important to prevent the serious consequences of this infection.
You’ll be given one or more types of antibiotics to kill the bacteria in the hospital. You will also be given anti-inflammatory medication to prevent the swelling of your brain. This is important, as this swelling could cause you to have a stroke, resulting in brain damage or death.
The largest number of people who contract viral meningitis recover after 1 to 2 weeks. The longer lasting symptoms these people may have after the disease are fatigue, concentration problems and hypersensitivity to light and sounds. Possible side effects are anxiety and susceptibility to depression.
Considerably less people fully recover from a bacterial infection. 1 in 3 people who have suffered from bacterial meningitis end up with symptoms which affect their daily functioning.