Meningitis is a serious condition wherein membranes in the spine and brain begin to swell and become inflamed. While this might not be dangerous in other areas of the body, the close proximity to the brain and spine make any form of inflammation dangerous, particularly if this inflammation is caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Viral meningitis is not as frequently associated with fatalities, while bacterial meningitis claims between 10 and 15 percent of its victims.
The Difference Between Viral and Bacterial Meningitis
Put simply, viruses are not usually as dangerous as bacteria, because viruses do not possess the same lifespan and fortitude that bacteria possess. Bacteria are opportunistic, and continue growing and replicating inside of a host, rather than gradually dying off. Viral meningitis may not require treatment at all, or may require only a small amount of supplemental treatment, while bacterial meningitis (and fungal meningitis) require medical intervention.
Many of the symptoms of meningitis are shared between viral and bacterial infections. Sudden fever, sensitivity to light, headaches, vomiting, nausea, and a stiff neck are all common to both viral and bacterial infections. The difference, however, comes in the form of duration and the most common recipients. Bacterial meningitis is found in any age group, while viral meningitis is most common in individuals under five years of age. A viral infection can be expected to last between 7 and 10 days, while a bacterial infection can continue indefinitely if it is left untreated.
Determining which form of meningitis you have is vital to a healthy recovery, and should be determined by your doctor or emergency room practitioner; this is not an illness that is safe to treat or diagnose from home. Instead, you must undergo testing—including, for some, a spinal tap—to determine the source of your body’s inflammation, and choose a course of action based on the type of meningitis you have.
Knowing the Signs
The most important symptoms are those that come on suddenly. Common cold and flu viruses can present the same way as meningitis, but there are a few key differences that separate meningitis from the proverbial pack.
#1. Stiff Neck
The swelling in the spine and brain can cause your muscles to stiffen, resulting in difficulty tilting your head forward. If you are experiencing neck pain or tightness, and cannot move your head forward, this is definite cause for concern.
#2. Sensitivity to Light
While lying in a dark room all day as you rest might produce an uncomfortable effect when you stare into a light, make note of any unusual light sensitivity you experience. Daylight should not be painful or highly uncomfortable, nor should a bedside lamp.
Finally, at more advanced stages of the illness, you might experience some confusion or disorientation. This suggests that the infection is growing worse and perhaps the swelling has grown stronger, and is certainly a point at which emergency medical services are necessary.