When we are healthy, our bodies generally do a good job at eliminating any infectious attackers that might attempt to make us ill. Even when we develop a cold or flu and feel miserable, our bodies are doing their best to overcome the viruses that have invaded our system. While bacterial infections can often pose a greater risk than most viruses that we face, standard antibiotics are usually enough to stop the bacteria and put us on the mend.
However, in some rare cases, infections can come at us fast and furious leaving precious little time for medical treatment before the infections cause serious permanent damage to our health
or even death in the worst situations. A group of such very serious and rapidly progressing infections are those that cause meningitis.Meningitis is an inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
This tissue layer serves the purpose of tightly controlling the flow of materials that enter the brain as well as blocking foreign invaders from reaching the brain. The condition is frequently the result of an infection in these tissues. Various forms of infectious viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal invaders
can result in meningitis, but viral and bacterial infections are the most common.
In fact, the viral form is the most common and although serious, it is fortunately the least dangerous even though many common forms of virus can cause the condition. Best estimates suggest that some 6000 UK residents develop the infection annually. In the US, the number of hospital visits for the condition was found to be 36,000 annually based on statistics from 1999. Since viruses cause the condition, antibiotics are of no use and antiviral medicines are used infrequently. Generally patients must endure the 1 to 2 weeks of symptoms before making a full recovery on their own
Though the viral form is the least serious with patients usually only facing standard flu-like symptoms accompanied by confusion, drowsiness, a stiff neck and light sensitivity, the condition can infrequently result in seizures and death.
A recent study from the end of last year completed at the New York University Langone Medical Center and Scripps Research Institute found that the virus could trigger an overreaction of the immune system when cells of the immune system are unable to precisely identify the virus. The overreaction causes too many immune cells to rapidly move out of the blood vessels into the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The rapid movement of the cells causes damage to the blood vessels that then leak fluid into the tissue causing swelling that leads to the seizures and sometimes to death.
Another uncommon effect of viral meningitis that is most often the result of the herpes simplex virus is a recurring form of the condition. The condition called Mollaret meningitis or more specifically herpesviral meningitis can cause episodes of symptoms to occur unpredictably and to then go away
. These recurrences can occur for as many as 5 to 10 years and can involve hospitalization.
Other rare forms of meningitis not caused by virus are those caused by fungus and parasites. While the viral forms of meningitis are rarely dangerous, many of the fungal and parasitic causes are much more hazardous. Statistics gathered in the US by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that the rare forms caused death 15 times more often than the viral causes and 13% more than the bacterial causes.
Viral, parasitic and fungal meningitis are avoided most easily with good hygiene, including hand washing, and clean living conditions. In addition, viral meningitis can mostly be avoided by receiving standard childhood vaccinations for viruses that can cause the condition. In addition, avoiding insect bites can also reduce the chances of being infected. Though meningitis is rare, the condition can knock a person off their feet at a minimum and can be fatal in the rare worst cases so it is good to know how to avoid the condition and to recognize its symptoms.
While not covered in this article, the bacterial form of the condition is almost as lethal and far more common than the rare forms of the condition. A subsequent article will cover that topic in detail.
Have you experienced viral meningitis and been hospitalized or had long-term health effects from the condition? Do you suffer from a recurrent form of the condition? Share your experiences in the health forums.Related Links: