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Bacterial Meningitis and Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

An infection of the brain with potentially eery serious effects.


Causes of Bacterial Meningitis

The brain is surrounded by delicate layers of specialised tissue called the meninges; meningitis means infection of this tissue. Most cases arise from viral infections that reach the brain via the blood stream. Fewer cases are caused by bacterial infection but these are always more serious. Meningitis is actually rather difficult to catch but the risks are higher in institutions where many people are close together. This is why outbreaks often spread through schools and colleges. Meningitis can follow any penetrating injury of the skull such as may occur in a road accident. The peak time for meningitis is winter.

Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis

The illness begins as an unremarkable infection with fever, mild headache, muscle aching and possibly a cold. Over a few hours or a couple of days the severity of the illness becomes rapidly worse. The headache becomes intense, bright lights hurt the eyes and there is pain on attempting to bend the neck. Eventually, features of encephalitis occur, such as drowsiness, irritability, epileptic tits and possibly coma. These symptoms are caused by irritation of the meninges over the brain, which is made worse by anything that stretches them such as bending the neck.

If the cause is bacterial, for example meningococcal meningitis, then there may be a widespread purple rash in the skin which consists of tiny bruises. This rash appears over just a few minutes and is a sign that the infection has spread into the blood stream (septicaemia) and is destroying the blood’s ability to clot.

In babies the disease is often much less dramatic and more difficult to recognize. The baby may be simply irritable, drowsy, possibly vomiting and possibly with a bulging fontanelle – caused by pressure within the skull.

Treatment of Bacterial Meningitis

If bacterial meningitis is even suspected, the first essential is to give an injection of penicillin. The diagnosis is confirmed by lumbar puncture – this means withdrawing fluid from around the spinal cord and analysing it for the bacteria responsible. If the cause is bacterial, the patient is maintained on high doses of the appropriate antibiotic. If the cause is viral, the illness will settle with just nursing care. The terrible effects of septicaemia lead to bleeding not only in the skin but in internal organs. Patients are desperately ill and require intensive care, blood transfusion, artificial respiration and control of epileptic fits.

With bacterial meningitis, people who have been in close contact should have antibiotics to reduce the likelihood of contracting it. Ninety-nine percent of people who contract viral meningitis make a lull recovery; unfortunately, bacterial meningitis is more dangerous with a 10% risk of death. Aftereffects such as epilepsy and partial paralysis are common.

A vaccination against Haemophilus B is now offered in childhood. This bacterium causes about 50% of all cases of bacterial meningitis. F.ven though this vaccination has been used for only a few years, the number of cases caused by Haemophilus B has plummeted to one-third of previous levels.

Complementary Treatment

Complementary therapies arc not appropriate in response to the medical emergency of meningitis. However, many therapies will be able to offer help during the recovery stages. Any of the relaxational therapies mentioned under Stress will help with the tensions of illness. There are many therapies that can help boost the immune system, including Western and Chinese herbalism, homoeopathy and acupuncture. The gentle arts of Tai chi/chi kung and yoga can also help restore the battered system.

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