Annually, meningitis affects more than 5 million people globally, and across all age groups it’s the world’s sixth largest infectious disease killer. The rapid onset and progression of the condition makes it vital to diagnose the disease early.
What is Viral Meningitis?
It’s the most common type of meningitis in adults and older children. It can be caused by many different viruses including the herpes simplex virus (normally the same type of virus that causes genital herpes), the chickenpox or shingles virus (also known as varicella zoster virus), and the enterovirus. Out of these, enteroviruses are the most frequent.
Viral meningitis presents with similar symptoms to bacterial meningitis such as fever, headache, dislike of lights and neck stiffness. There can also be a rash, but this is normally quite different to the rash seen in bacterial meningitis with meningococcal disease.
What is bacterial meningitis?
Bacterial meningitis is less common than viral, but it can still happen to anyone at any age. A wide range of bacteria causes the condition, however the most common worldwide are meningococcal, pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae. Bacterial meningitis can occur alongside sepsis, which is the more life threatening form of the disease and often involves the bacteria invading the blood as well. Sepsis can occur with or without bacterial meningitis.
It can often start with non-specific signs and include fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.
How can you tell the difference between viral and bacterial meningitis?
For a medical diagnosis of viral or bacterial meningitis, a doctor will have to perform a lumbar puncture. This involves collecting a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds the brain and spinal cord to find out what is causing the meningitis. If the results of the lumbar puncture identify a specific virus or bacteria then the diagnosis is straightforward. If they are unsure, they will normally opt to treat the patient for bacterial meningitis as a precaution.
Bacterial meningitis usually needs to be treated in hospital for at least a week.
- Antibiotics given directly into a vein
- Fluids given directly into a vein
- Oxygen through a face mask
Viral meningitis tends to get better on its own within 7 to 10 days and can often be treated at home. Getting plenty of rest and taking painkillers, and anti-sickness medication can help relieve the symptoms in the meantime.
What should you do if you think you have meningitis?
If you suspect that you, or someone you know, might be suffering from meningitis it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
At Private GP Extra, patients have access to highly experienced GPs across the North West of England, at a time to suit them. Our doctors provide a personalised service, with continuity of care for every person, and can also offer a smooth and rapid onward referral to a specialist, if required. To book an appointment with one of our GPs, please visit https://www.privategpextra.com/appointments/ or call 0161 428 4464.