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These Types of Meningitis Can Put Your Health at Risk

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Meningitis refers to the inflammation of the meninges in your brain, but there are various agents that could cause this disease
  • A whopping 85 percent of viral meningitis cases (around 10 to 15 million infections) are attributed to viruses from the Enterovirus category yearly.
  • Certain diseases (cancer or lupus), procedures (brain surgery), injuries (head injuries) or medications can trigger non-infectious meningitis

Did you know that "meningitis" is actually just an umbrella term? Yes, it does refer to the inflammation of the meninges in your brain, but actually there are various agents that could cause this disease.

As a result, different types of meningitis have been determined, each with its own causes, risk factors and side effects. Here are the five most common types of meningitis.1,2

Viral Meningitis

Said to be the most common type of meningitis, viral meningitis occurs because certain viruses have made their way into your body. Although it is similar to bacterial meningitis in terms of the symptoms they exhibit, viral meningitis is different because it's an aseptic illness.

This means that bacteria won't grow in the cerebrospinal fluid, a clear and colorless liquid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord.3,4

A whopping 85 percent of viral meningitis cases in the U.S. (around 10 to 15 million infections) are attributed to viruses from the non-polio Enterovirus category yearly. This includes the Coxsackieviruses A and B, as well as Echoviruses. Aside from Enteroviruses, other viruses that could trigger viral meningitis are:5

West Nile virus





Chicken pox

Herpes viruses

Coltivirus that also causes Colorado thick fever

However, take note that only a small percentage of people who initially get infected by these viruses actually get sick.6

Viral meningitis can be spread through fecal contamination, usually when a person does not wash his or her hands properly after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Viral meningitis may also be passed on via secretions of the eyes, nose and/or mouth, and even blister fluid.7 Having direct contact with a person or surface with traces of the virus is another way that this sickness could be transferred.8

Cases of viral meningitis reach their peak during the summer and fall, especially in areas with temperate climates. However, according to a report from the British Medical Journal published in 2008, infection rates for viral meningitis are high all year long in places with tropical and subtropical climates.9

In most patients with viral meningitis, the disease typically goes away without treatment. But this does not mean they shouldn't consult a physician once they feel like they have the disease. Some cases of viral meningitis can actually be fatal, depending on factors such as:10

  • Type of virus causing the illness
  • Patient's age
  • State of his or her immune system

Having your symptoms checked is crucial because some signs of viral meningitis actually may be early symptoms of Lyme disease, another life-threatening illness. Headaches, stiff neck and fatigue are the first signs of Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that spreads via infected ticks.11,12

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Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is triggered by certain bacteria strains that enter your bloodstream and go further into your brain and spinal cord. Sometimes, this disease could also arise because of an ear or sinus infection, a skull fracture or as side effect of surgery (although this is rare).13 The known bacteria strains that cause this disease are:14

Streptococcus pneumoniae: This bacteria strain is typically located in the respiratory tract, sinuses and nasal cavity, and could cause pneumococcal meningitis

Neiserria meningitides: Usually spread through the saliva and other respiratory fluids, Neiserria meningitides could trigger meningitis, septicaemia or a combination of both illnesses. This bacteria possesses other strains such A,B,C,W,X and Y,15 with B being the most common type, causing meningitis B or MenB16

Haemophilus influenza: A very dangerous bacteria strain, this infection not only results in the onset of meningitis, but can also cause blood infection/s, windpipe inflammation, cellulitis and infectious arthritis

Listeria monocytogenes: This is a type of bacteria that can contaminate various food items and lead to an infection called listeriosis17

Mycobacterium tuberculosis:18 This strain eventually causes tuberculous (TB) meningitis in a patient. The infection begins in the lungs or elsewhere in the body. Around 2 percent of TB meningitis cases involve bacteria traveling via the bloodstream into the meninges where they can wreak havoc

Bacterial meningitis is highly contagious and can be transferred from one person to another by coughing, sneezing or transferring saliva during kissing or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In some instances, eating contaminated food can cause this illness.

Unlike viral meningitis, there is no specific time of the year wherein cases of bacterial meningitis reach their peak. However, there are risk factors that predispose certain groups of people for this disease. These include having a weak immune system, recent bout/s of sickness and head injuries. In addition, certain groups of people also have an increased risk for bacterial meningitis:19

  • Infants younger than 1 year old
  • People ages 16 to 21
  • Adults with medical problems, such as those without a spleen
  • College students living in dormitories or close living quarters

It is important to consult a physician if you feel like you have symptoms of this disease. If left untreated, bacterial meningitis can be fatal. Sadly, between 5 and 40 percent of children and 20 to 50 percent of adults diagnosed with bacterial meningitis pass away, and this may occur even if there is proper treatment. Bacterial meningitis can also cause serious complications, such as brain damage and hearing loss.20

Parasitic Meningitis

This is a type of meningitis wherein a patient is infected with Naegleria fowleri. This is a parasite that's said to cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).21

However, other parasites can also cause an illness called eosinophilic meningitis, eosinophilic meningoencephalitis or EM, wherein high levels of eosinophils are recorded. Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell in the cerebrospinal fluid around your brain and spinal cord. As stated by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are the parasites that could cause this condition:22

  • Angiostrongylus cantonensis
  • Baylisascaris procyonis
  • Gnathosthoma spinigerium

Parasitic meningitis happens when a parasite enters your body via your nose and then travels to your brain where it starts to destroy brain tissue. This results in a brain infection that progresses rapidly, occurring for roughly one to 12 days on average.23

Unlike the first two types of meningitis, parasitic meningitis cannot be spread from one person to another. Nevertheless, be careful, as the parasite has been detected in various places worldwide and can likely contaminate:24

  • Warm freshwater sources like lakes, rivers and hot springs
  • Soil
  • Warm water discharged from industrial sources
  • Poorly treated swimming pools
  • Water heaters

Fungal Meningitis

If you have fungal meningitis, this means that a fungus has entered the bloodstream and has moved through the blood and into your spinal cord.25 This type of meningitis could arise after you take medications that weaken your immune system.26 In fact, while virtually everyone is at risk of having fungal meningitis, your risk becomes higher if you have a weak immune system.27

While this disease is not passed from person to person, there are numerous ways that the fungus responsible for this illness can be transmitted, namely.28

Cryptococcus: Considered to be the most common type of fungus that causes fungal meningitis, you can acquire this when you inhale soil that has traces of bird droppings

Hitoplasma: This type of fungus is found in environments with high amounts of bird or bat droppings, such as in the Midwest, near the Ohio and Mississippi rivers

Blastomyces: This is located in soil that is rich in decaying organic matters, specifically in the northern Midwest area here in the U.S.

Non-Infectious Meningitis

Certain diseases (cancer or lupus), procedures (brain surgery), injuries (head injuries) or medications can trigger non-infectious meningitis. Just like parasitic and fungal meningitis, this illness cannot be transferred from one person to another.29

Chronic Meningitis

If you experience a condition with meningitis-like symptoms that develop over weeks and months, chances are you have chronic meningitis. Symptoms like fever, headaches, confusion, facial numbness and instances of paralysis are common in this disease, although they don’t manifest as quickly and aren’t that severe.30

People who are immunocompromised because of diseases like cancer and AIDS, cancer treatment medications and long-term drug use (particularly prednisone) are more likely to have chronic meningitis.31


Meningitis: Introduction

What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis in Children

Is Meningitis Contagious?

Meningitis Duration

Meningitis Causes

Meningitis Types

Meningitis Symptoms

Meningitis Treatment

Meningitis Prevention

Meningitis Diet

Meningitis FAQ

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