Dr. Advait Kulkarni, Consultant – Neurologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road
It can never be stressed enough how crucial hygiene is for a healthier better life. With the current lifestyle, there is more exposure to unhygienic surroundings, food, etc. and hence it is important to inculcate clean hygienic habits in children right from a young age to keep infections at bay. With the growing weather changes, polluted environment, irregular lifestyle, long working hours and junk food consumption in children as well as adults, they are more prone for low immunity and are at higher risk infections. One such serious infection can be that of meningitis.
Meningitis is basically an inflammation of the meninges, which are the three membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis, which can be contagious, and happens when the fluid around the meninges gets an infection.
Bacteria or viruses mostly cause meningitis but sometimes even certain medicines and some illnesses like cancer, drug allergies, chemical irritation, or fungi may cause meningitis.
Sometimes the bacteria and viruses that because meningitis are the same as the ones causing other routine illnesses like cold, diarrhea, flu, etc. and hence is not very distinguishable initially.
There are many types of meningitis:
Viral meningitis: The most common type of meningitis can usually go with supportive treatment. However certain viruses like west Nile virus, JE virus, HIV, herpes virus may cause severe meningoencephalitis which can be severe and fatal. Others like influenza, mumps, measles, herpes viruses, Coltivirus (which causes Colorado tick fever) are viruses that can lead to meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis: Caused due to infection from certain bacteria, this is contagious and can be fatal if left untreated. It is mostly caused by bacteria including streptococcus pneumonia (typically found in the respiratory tract, sinuses, and nasal cavity.
Fungal meningitis: This is a rare form of meningitis, caused by a fungus that infects the body and then spreads to the brain or spinal cord. People with a weak immune system & those with HIV, Diabetes or cancer are more prone to this
Parasitic meningitis: Occurring as a result of parasites found in dirt, feces, and on some animals, pork consumption, this is less type of meningitis. It does not transmit from person to person but through an animal or food infected by the parasites.
Chronic meningitis: Developing over two weeks or more, this type occurs due to slow-growing organisms like fungi and mycobacterium Tuberculosis.
Non-infectious meningitis: This type of meningitis is not a result of any infection but due to other medical conditions like lupus (autoimmune conditions), a head injury, brain surgery, cancer, and certain medications.
Meningitis can occur at any age but is most likely in children under the age of 5 as they are at an increased risk of viral infections. Infants, however, stay at higher risk of bacterial infections. The symptoms of this disease also depend on a person’s age and the cause of infection. The initial signs can be seen soon or at times a few days after someone has been suffering from cold, diarrhea, vomiting or other infection symptoms and hence can be confused with the flu as well.
Common symptoms observed in are:
- Limb, joint and muscle pain
- Stiff neck
- Irritation to bright lights (Photophobia)
- Seizures (fits)
As far as the treatment of meningitis is concerned, it also depends on the cause, age of patient and comorbidities.
- Viral meningitis usually fades out within a week to 10 days, with most are able to recover with supportive treatment and Rest.
- Coming to bacterial meningitis, it’s important to begin with intravenous (IV) antibiotics at the earliest possible. Fluids are also provided to replace those lost as sweat, vomit, fever, and poor appetite.
- For parasitic meningitis, antibiotic treatment is not a must. It depends on the cause. Sometimes just the symptoms needed to be treated, and sometimes the infection directly.
How can it be prevented?
- Boost your immune system: A healthy immune system always helps in fighting from the viruses and bacteria that cause meningitis. It’s always advised to keep the immune system strong by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, adequate rest and regular exercise.
- Cover your mouth: While coughing or sneezing, always ensure that your mouth and nose is covered and the tissues used are disposed properly, so that anybody else will not get effected by this.
- Wash your hands: Children and adults should always be taught to wash hands often, especially before and after eating, post the usage of toilets, spending time in a crowded place or even petting animals to avoid any infections. Eating unboiled street foods esp. south Indian coconut chatni which can be contaminated by parasitic (cystecercosis) eggs is important in prevention of neurocystecercosis.
- Practice good hygiene: A very hygienic practice should be followed where drinks, foods, eating utensils, lip balms or toothbrushes shouldn’t be shared with anyone as these have got higher risks of spreading an infection. Children too should be taught about maintain hygiene as they are prone to infection easily.