iCliniq logo

Ask a Doctor Online Now

HomeHealth articlesbacterial meningitisWhat Are the Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis?

Bacterial Meningitis - Complications, Symptoms, Management, and Preventive Strategies

Verified dataVerified data
0

4 min read

Share

Bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening condition with grave symptoms. Early detection and expert medical management help alleviate potential complications.

Written by

Dr. Jayasree S

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Published At December 15, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 1, 2023

Introduction:

Meningitis is the inflammation of the two inner layers surrounding (leptomeninges) the brain and spinal cord. When bacteria cause it, we call it bacterial meningitis. This type of infection affects an individual abruptly and turns fatal. If left untreated, meningitis can cause the death of the individual. Sometimes those who recover from meningitis show permanent disabilities, such as stroke, brain damage, learning disabilities, loss of hearing, or paralysis.

What Are the Complications of Bacterial Meningitis?

It normally starts when a foreign-body-like bacteria makes its way inside the leptomeninges, either by direct contact or through the bloodstream (hematogenous spread). There is a fluid known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) present between the layers of the leptomeninges, cushioning the brain from physical impacts and providing nutrients. Once the bacteria find a way into the CSF, it starts to multiply. The immune system responds to this invasion by flooding the space with white blood cells. In addition, they release chemicals called cytokines resulting in inflammation. If treatment is delayed, the inflammation build-up will increase the pressure around the brain, causing injury and damage. Sometimes, the infection may pass on to the brain and cause meningoencephalitis. As a result, the individual may suffer a loss of consciousness, progress to a state of unconsciousness, and die.

What Are the Significant Signs and Symptoms of Acute Bacterial Meningitis?

The classic symptoms that point to bacterial meningitis are:

  • Stiffness of the neck (nuchal rigidity).

  • Headaches.

  • Fever.

  • Discomfort with bright lights (photophobia).

  • Discomfort with loud noises (phonophobia).

  • Mental confusion due to impaired brain function.

  • Reddish bruises on the skin (petechial rashes).

  • Altered mental state and seizure if there is meningoencephalitis.

  • Feeling sleepy, lethargic, and irritable.

  • Goes to a comma in advanced infection.

  • If the brainstem is involved, it may cause cranial nerve paralysis (palsies).

  • Weakness in one-half of the body.

How Does One Catch Bacterial Meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis can spread from one to another through droplets produced at coughing, sneezing, kissing, or staying in close contact. In addition, some bacteria spread through contaminated food and water. Infection can spread to the CSF through two routes:

  1. Direct Spread: When the bacteria get inside the skull or vertebral column first, then penetrate the meninges, eventually ending up in the CSF. Sometimes, the pathogen will come in through the overlying skin or anatomical defects in the skull. This can be due to the following:

    • A birth defect like spina bifida.

    • Basal skull fracture where CSF might be leaking through the sinuses.

    • A cribriform plate defect.

    • Middle ear infection (otitis media), sinusitis, or mastoiditis.

  2. Indirect Spread: When a pathogen enters the bloodstream and moves through blood vessels crossing the blood-brain barrier layer and getting into the CSF. Example: pneumonia and sepsis.

Which Bacteria Cause Meningitis in Children and Adults?

In newborns, the most common causes are group B streptococci, E-coli, and Listeria monocytogenes. Among children and teens, it is usually Neisseria meningitis and Streptococcus pneumoniae. In adults and the elderly, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Listeria monocytogenes cause meningitis. Sometimes, tubercular meningitis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria which also causes tuberculosis. Hemophilus influenza, Salmonella, and Gram-negative bacilli, such as Klebsiella pneumoniae, also cause meningitis.

What Are the Risk Factors for Catching Meningitis?

The following category of individuals are at a higher risk of catching meningitis:

  • Those who are suffering from HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or some other condition that lowers immunity.

  • Those with damaged or missing organs like the spleen.

  • Those who have not taken preventive vaccines.

  • Those who are born with or acquired structural abnormalities in the skull and vertebral column.

  • Newborn babies are at definite risk for meningitis.

  • Those who have been exposed to large groups at the time of infectious outbreaks.

  • Those who have been exposed to certain parts of the world with a high attack rate of meningitis.

What Are the Causes of Bacterial Meningitis in Newborns?

Newborns develop meningitis at birth from the mother most of the time. A pregnant mother may pass on a Listeria or Group B Streptococcus bacteria to the infant at the time of delivery. If untreated, it turns out to be a life-threatening condition for the baby. The infant may exhibit inactivity, breathing difficulty, high-pitched crying, irritability, unstable body temperature, seizures, poor sucking and feeding, vomiting, abnormal reflexes, and swelling (bulging fontanelle) on top of the head.

How Is Bacterial Meningitis Clinically Diagnosed?

Diagnosis starts with a thorough review of the medical history and analyzing the symptoms. A physical examination follows this to look for the features below:

  1. Kernig’s Sign - The person, lies flat on their back facing upwards, and one of their legs is raised with the knee flexed to a 90-degree angle. Holding the leg, try to straighten the knee slowly. It is observed whether this causes back pain.

  2. Brudzinski’s Sign - The person lies flat on their back facing upwards and has their neck supported and flexed if this causes them to bend their knee or hips automatically.

  3. Stiff Neck - Not able to flex the neck by self or with the doctor’s help.

  4. Abnormal stiffness of the body posture.

  5. Asymmetry between two sides of the body along with reflexes.

The following tests are also confirmatory for bacterial meningitis:

  1. Spinal tapping or lumbar puncture - A needle is forced into the lower back portion of the vertebral column to enter the spinal cord, and a few milliliters of CSF are taken. This sample is analyzed for the number of white blood cells, protein, glucose, and more in the laboratory.

  2. The pressure applied by the CSF is compared against the blood pressure to see if there is an increase.

  3. Other blood tests to check the presence of bacteria.

  4. The doctor might order a computed tomography scan (CT) of the brain to look for underlying infection causes like fractures and structural abnormalities.

What Antibiotics Are Used to Treat Bacterial Meningitis?

The doctor will start treatment at the earliest to reduce the complications associated with meningitis. It mainly depends on the underlying cause. For bacterial meningitis, steroids like Dexamethasone are initially administered, followed by an antibiotic. This is to prevent massive injury to the leptomeninges from inflammation. The most effective antibiotics for bacterial meningitis are Cefotaxime, Ceftriaxone, Vancomycin, Ampicillin, and Benzylpenicillin. In affected communities and households where individuals are not vaccinated, doctors usually administer prophylactic antibiotics to avoid outbreaks of bacterial meningitis. It is highly recommended to people who are aged or immunocompromised as well.

How Can One Prevent Contracting Bacterial Meningitis?

Prevention with a vaccine is the most appropriate way to safeguard against bacterial meningitis. Currently, there are vaccines like the pneumococcal vaccine, meningococcal vaccine, and Hemophilus influenza vaccines available at predetermined schedules for early prevention.

Conclusion:

Bacterial meningitis is a disease with a sudden onset, rapid progression, and severe complications. But it can be prevented to a large extent by early vaccination and by creating awareness of its ways of spreading. The occurrence of bacterial meningitis has drastically reduced over the past years due to timely vaccinations. Still, this is one disease with high death rates if left untreated. If in doubt that one has symptoms of meningitis, getting the help of a medical professional at the earliest is crucial to avoid long-term complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Is Bacterial Meningitis Caused?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the two inner layers surrounding (leptomeninges) the brain and spinal cord. When bacteria causes it, we call it bacterial meningitis. It is caused by:
- Direct spread- A birth defect like spina bifida, or cribriform plate defect.
- Indirect spread- when any pathogen enters the bloodstream and enters blood vessels crossing the blood-brain barrier layer and getting into the CSF. Example: pneumonia and sepsis.

2.

What Confirms Meningitis?

The presence of meningitis can be confirmed by:
- Lumbar puncture - A needle is forced into the lower back to withdraw CSF (CerebroSpinal Fluid). This sample is analyzed for the number of white blood cells, protein, glucose, etc, in the laboratory.
- The pressure the CSF applies is compared to the blood pressure to see if there is an increase.
- Blood tests are done to check the presence of bacteria.
- CT (Computed Tomography) scans of the brain are also recommended by doctors.

3.

What Are the Signs of Meningitis?

The signs of meningitis are
- Stiffness of the neck.
- Headaches.
- Fever.
- Discomfort with bright lights (photophobia).
- Discomfort with loud noises (phonophobia).
- Mental confusion due to impaired brain function.

4.

How Is Meningitis Prevented?

Meningitis can be prevented by a vaccine. Currently, there are vaccines like the pneumococcal vaccine, meningococcal vaccine, and Hemophilus influenza vaccines available at predetermined schedules for early prevention.

5.

What Is the Range of Fever in Meningitis?

Meningitis is caused due to the inflammation of the meninges. The common symptoms of meningitis develop suddenly and can include a fever of 37.5 Celsius (99.5Farehenite) and being sick, a headache.

6.

Who Is More Prone to Develop Bacterial Meningitis?

The people who are more prone to develop bacterial meningitis are:
- People who are suffering from HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or any other condition that lowers immunity.
- People who have damaged or missing organs like the spleen.
- People who have not taken preventive vaccines.

7.

Which Is the Best Antibiotic for Meningitis?

The most effective antibiotics to treat bacterial meningitis are Cefotaxime, Ceftriaxone, Vancomycin, Ampicillin, and Benzylpenicillin. In individuals who are not vaccinated, doctors usually administer prophylactic antibiotics to avoid outbreaks of bacterial meningitis. It is recommended for people who are aged or immunocompromised as well.

8.

Which Drugs Result in Meningitis?

Drugs that can cause aseptic meningitis include the following:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Antimicrobials (e.g., trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, amoxicillin, isoniazid).
- Muromonab-CD3.
- Azathioprine.
- Intravenous immunoglobulin.
- Intrathecal methotrexate.

9.

Is There Any Vaccine for Meningitis?

Prevention with a vaccine is the most appropriate way to prevent bacterial meningitis. Currently, the available vaccines are the pneumococcal vaccine, meningococcal vaccine, and Hemophilus influenza vaccines, available at predetermined schedules for early prevention.

10.

How Is Meningitis Prevented Naturally?

The ways that can help prevent meningitis naturally are:
- Careful hand-washing helps prevent the spread of germs. 
- Prevent dehydration by drinking enough water throughout the day or fluids like coconut milk and herbal tea. 
- Eating water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables also helps in preventing meningitis naturally.

11.

What Are the Complications of Meningitis?

Once the bacteria enters the CSF (CerebroSpinal Fluid), it starts to multiply. The immune system responds to bacterial invasion by flooding the space with white blood cells. In addition, they release chemicals called cytokines resulting in inflammation. If treatment is delayed, the inflammation can increase the pressure around the brain, causing injury and damage. In some cases, the infection may pass on to the brain and cause meningoencephalitis. As a result, the individual may suffer from loss of consciousness, progress to a state of unconsciousness, and die.

12.

Which Is the Early Stage of Meningitis?

The early stage of bacterial meningitis includes a high-temperature fever, vomiting, headache, being sick, etc. Pain in the limbs, pale skin, and hands become cold, presence of rash, stiffness in the neck, bright lights become irritating, and confusion is present.

13.

Which Is the First Choice for Meningitis?

The first choice for the treatment of meningitis are:
 
Antibiotics such as penicillin, ampicillin, and ceftriaxone. In the case of meningococcal and pneumococcal meningitis, ceftriaxone is the drug of choice.

14.

Which Type of Meningitis Is More Severe?

Bacteria and viruses can both cause meningitis. Viral meningitis is the more common type of meningitis, but bacterial meningitis is the more severe one. Bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage, paralysis, or stroke. In some cases, it can even turn into a fatal disease.
Dr. Abhishek Juneja
Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Neurology

Tags:

bacterial meningitis
Community Banner Mobile
By subscribing, I agree to iCliniq's Terms & Privacy Policy.

Source Article ArrowMost popular articles

Ask your health query to a doctor online

Neurology

*guaranteed answer within 4 hours

Disclaimer: No content published on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice or treatment by a trained physician. Seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding your symptoms and medical condition for a complete medical diagnosis. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Read our Editorial Process to know how we create content for health articles and queries.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. iCliniq privacy policy