Meningitis  is a disease caused by the inflammation of thin lining covering the brain and spinal cord known as meninges. The infection of the fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord leads to inflammation of meninges. The severity of illness and treatment of meningitis differ depending on the cause. So, its important to know the specific cause of meningitis.


The most common symptom of meningitis is severe headache , followed by nuchal rigidity (the inability to  flex the neck forward passively due to increased neck muscle tone and stiffness).
Early symptoms:
  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the muscles, joints or limbs, such as in the legs or hands
  • Unusually cold hands and feet, or shivering
  • Pale or blotchy skin and blue lips
Later symptoms:
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures or fits
  • Being unable to tolerate bright light (photophobia) – this is less common in young children
  • A stiff neck – also less common in young children
  • A rapid breathing rate

Meningitis is typically caused by an infection with microorganisms. Most infections are due to viruses with bacteria, fungi, and protozoa being the next most common causes.
Broadly, there are five types of meningitis :
  • Bacterial meningitis, which is caused by bacteria such as Neisseria meningitidis or Streptococcus pneumoniae and spread through close contact. It can be life threatening, so immediate medical attention is recommended.
  • Viral meningitis, which is caused by viruses that can be spread through coughing, sneezing and poor hygiene.
  • Parasitic meningitis, Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a very rare form of parasitic meningitis that causes a fatal brain infection.  
  • Fungal meningitis, Fungal meningitis is rare and is usually carried by blood to the meninges. Although anyone can get fungal meningitis, people with weak immune system, like those suffering from AIDS, diabetes or cancer, are at a higher risk.
  • Non infectious meningitis, Non–infectious meningitis does not spread from person to person but can be caused by:
1) Cancers
2) Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
3) Certain drugs
4) Head injury
5) Brain surgery

Diagnostic tests for meningitis include:
  • Blood test – to check for the presence of bacteria or viruses that can cause meningitis
  • Lumbar puncture – where a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is taken from the base of the spine and checked for the presence of bacteria or viruses
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – if there are any other suspected problems, such as damage to the brain
  • Chest X-ray to look for signs of infection

NHP provides indicative information for better understanding of health. For any diagnosis and treatment purpose you should consult your physician.


Meningitis is a life-threatening disease and has a high mortality rate if untreated.
Bacterial meningitis:
Antibiotics like Cephalosporins have shown good results. Chloramphenicol, either alone or in combination with ampicillin, however, appears to work equally well.
Viral meningitis:
Viral meningitis tends to run a more benign course than bacterial meningitis. It only requires supportive therapy as most viruses responsible for causing meningitis are not amenable to specific treatment. 
Fungal meningitis:
Fungal meningitis, such as cryptococcal or Coccidioides meningitis, is treated with long courses of high dose antifungals, such as amphotericin B and flucytosine.
Non infectious meningitis:
Non infectious meningitis may be treated with cortisone medications. In some cases, treatment may not be required and the condition can resolve on its own.
NHP provides indicative information for better understanding of health. For any diagnosis and treatment purpose you should consult your physician.

Possible complications include:
  • Hearing loss, which may be partial or total
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Problems with co-ordination and balance
  • Learning difficulties, which may be temporary or permanent
  • Epilepsy / Fits
  • Cerebral palsy – a general term for a set of conditions that affect movement and co-ordination
  • Speech problems
  • Vision loss, which may be partial or total

  • LAST UPDATED ON : Sep 17, 2015


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The content on this page has been supervised by the Nodal Officer, Project Director and Assistant Director (Medical) of Centre for Health Informatics. Relevant references are cited on each page.