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Meningitis

Definition:

  • Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by infections (viral, bacterial, fungal) or non-infectious factors (e.g., drugs, autoimmune diseases).

Etiology:

  1. Bacterial Meningitis:
    • More severe; common organisms include Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae.
  2. Viral Meningitis:
    • Often less severe; common viruses include enteroviruses, herpes simplex virus, and varicella-zoster virus.
  3. Fungal Meningitis:
    • Less common; seen in immunocompromised individuals.

Epidemiology:

  • Incidence and prevalent organisms vary by age, region, and vaccination status.

Pathophysiology:

  • Infection or other inflammatory triggers cause the meninges to swell, which can affect the brain and spinal cord, potentially leading to life-threatening complications.

Clinical Features:

  • Classic triad: Fever, headache, and neck stiffness.
  • Other symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, photophobia, altered mental status.
  • In infants, symptoms may be nonspecific: irritability, poor feeding, bulging fontanelle.
  • Kernig’s and Brudzinski’s signs may be present.

Diagnosis:

  • Lumbar puncture with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis is crucial: elevated white cell count, elevated protein, and decreased glucose in bacterial meningitis; lymphocytic predominance in viral meningitis.
  • Blood cultures, CT or MRI before lumbar puncture if raised intracranial pressure is suspected.
  • PCR and antigen tests for specific pathogens.

Management:

  • Bacterial meningitis: Immediate empirical intravenous antibiotics and sometimes corticosteroids.
  • Viral meningitis: Supportive care; specific antivirals for cases like herpes simplex.
  • Fungal meningitis: Antifungal therapy.
  • Vaccination for prevention: Pneumococcal, meningococcal, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccines.

Prognosis:

  • Bacterial meningitis can be fatal if not treated promptly and carries risk of serious complications like hearing loss, brain damage, or learning disabilities.
  • Viral meningitis generally has a good prognosis.

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